Show me the money
27 June 2007
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4 September 2013
The financial barriers to a career in the law can seem daunting for many, but there are a number of avenues from which you can get funding for your legal studies
In this post-top-up fees era, the cost of qualifying as a solicitor has become scarily high. Just the fees alone of a three-year law degree course these days can leave students with debts of more than 9,000. Throw in LPC fees, plus maintenance costs, and you are talking about a massive 37,000, according to the Trainee Solicitors Group. For non-law graduates who decide to become solicitors, the costs are even higher as this group must take the GDL and thus have another year out of work.
But never fear: there are sources of funding out there aimed at helping you on your way to solicitor glory.
It is true that students of today have it tougher than their counterparts of yesteryear, who enjoyed a free university education. Most universities will charge the maximum tuitions fees of 3,070 for the 2007-08 academic year. One exception is Leeds Metropolitan University, which offers an undergraduate law degree and has capped its fees at 2,000. And if you are really sure that you want to be a solicitor then Northumbria Universitys four-year law degree incorporating the LPC works out cheaper than doing the two courses separately. But there is no getting away from it; studying law, a popular and competitive course, in most cases means paying the top rate.
Help at hand
The controversy surrounding the new regime has, to a certain extent, obscured some of the key facts and overshadowed an improved package of funding. Crucially it is worth noting that these fees do not need to be paid upfront, so if you take out a loan to cover them (an option open to all eligible full-time students), you won’t have to start making repayments until you have finished the course and only when your earnings are over a certain amount, currently 15,000 a year.
Loans for maintenance are also available depending on where you study, where you live while you study, and the academic year. All full-time students can automatically get around 75 per cent of the full loan amount, while anything more depends on household income.
Around half of all full-time students are also likely to be eligible for a yearly maintenance grant of up to 2,765 for 2007-08, again dependent on household income. And as this is a grant, it is non-repayable.
Universities charging top-up fees at full whack have to offer students eligible for full grants a minimum bursary of 300, but many offer more than this. On average, universities and colleges offer 1,000 a year to these students, but some institutions, such as Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter universities, cover the full cost of the course. So in some cases students from low-income households can forget about course fee loans and enjoy a free university education. If this applies to you, research your favoured institutions and shop around.
You can apply for extra help if you have a disability or specific learning difficulty, or if you have children or adult dependants.
Counting the cost
If you found enough time between partying to occasionally browse WestLaw and attain a good degree, then law school beckons. The ongoing Solicitors Regulation Authority training framework review may change the process, but for the time being the vocational stage of training is covered by the LPC, which takes one year of full-time study. Add in another year of studying for the GDL if you are a non-law graduate.
The bad news is that fees for the GDL cost on average more than 5,000, while the LPCs can burn a 10,000 hole in your wallet. The good news, however, is that larger law firms will shell out for the course costs and maintenance, while smaller ones sometimes offer interest-free loans. But a word of caution: in the big City outfits especially, competition for these sponsored places is fierce, so do not rely on a law firm fairy godmother to magic away your money troubles.
But its not all doom and gloom. Sponsorship aside, there are other ways to access finance to fund this part of your journey to becoming a solicitor.
The good old Law Society is quite helpful in this area. It runs a bursary scheme funded by a number of trusts and scholarships established by very nice people who want to contribute to the development of new solicitors. In order to qualify you must be able to demonstrate that your financial hardship is greater than average and that you are serious about entering the profession. The society also runs what it calls the Diversity Access Scheme, which aims to provide support to talented wannabe solicitors who will have to overcome a specific obstacle to qualify. Social, educational, financial, disability or family issues are all factors that would be considered.
Limited funding for ethnic minority and/or overseas students is also available from organisations including the Windsor Fellowship, the British Council and the Inderpal Rahal Memorial Trust.
It is also worth checking whether your post-graduate law school feels like slipping you a freebie or making a contribution towards fees. BPP Law School, for instance, runs an annual scholarship programme aimed at increasing diversity in the legal profession.
Talk to your local council, the awards officer may have information on local charities or grant-making trusts, which could help you out. The council will also be able to give you the lowdown on any discretionary awards it makes available.
If you dont mind acquiring a bit more debt to go with the debt you are likely to accumulate while studying for your first degree, then the vocational stage of your training can be funded by special loan packages offered by most high street banks for future solicitors. These generally attract a lower rate of interest than normal, and delay repayments on the loan in order for you to complete the course and obtain employment.
Career development loans, currently offered by Barclays Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and the Co-operative Bank, could help too. As well as deferring the repayment of the loan the Government pays the interest while you are learning and for one month after you have finished the course. However, note that in August 2007 the Learning & Skills Council clarified the rules on career development loans meaning that they’re only available to fund the LPC and not the GDL.
Income at last
Last, but certainly not least, is the training contract, and for a change you will be earning dosh instead of having to find ways to access it. The Law Society recommends that trainees receive a minimum wage of 17,110 in central London and 15,332 for those in other parts of England and Wales. But in reality most firms pay more than this, with trainees at large City firms earning up to 35,000 in their first year.
Qualifying as a solicitor may seem fraught with financial barriers at every turn, but if you can overcome these perhaps by tapping into some of the funding streams outlined a rewarding career awaits you in the end. Good luck!