Firms should fund students, says group

TRAINING commercial lawyers need not be a priority for a Labour government and the party should ensure that any increase in funding for law students does not end up “in the coffers of big City law firms”, according to the Young Labour Lawyers (YLL) group.

In the YLL's recent response to Labour's 'Access to justice' consultation paper, the group says firms and chambers practising in commercial law are “perfectly capable” of providing private funding for law students.

It suggests government grants should be provided only to those who commit to legal aid work “for a certain number of years”, and says if students change their minds at a later date they or their firms should be forced to repay the grant at a commercial interest rate.

The proposal is supported by Roger Jones, chair of the Law Society's training committee. “Bearing in mind our commitment to the one profession, I don't know that I'd go so far as to say that no grants should be given to aspiring commercial lawyers,” he says.

“But I think in general terms I would sympathise with a position where grants are awarded to legal aid trainees and legal aid firms.”

The paper also criticises the high costs of courses, but says the expanding number of institutions providing legal education means more students will cut living costs by remaining at home while they study.

“At present, those seeking to become lawyers face fees of £5,000 and a year's living expenses in a major city on top,” says the paper. “No one can describe a profession with a £15,000 entry fee as open to all.”

YLL also supports a fused professional course and says students should not be forced to choose whether they want to become barristers or solicitors as early as they now do.

“Many students are more concerned about practising in their chosen area than whether they practise as a solicitor or barrister,” says the paper. “A common training course could cater for this, and for the increasing numbers of lawyers who will not practise in traditional firms and chambers.”