The tomorrow people

With mounting concerns about next year’s rise in university tuition fees, it is understandable that ­students from less well-off ­backgrounds may feel tempted to throw in the towel.

Indeed, at a potential cost of £9,000 per year, a degree in most disciplines is arguably on track to be the preserve of the rich.

But for the Year 12 A-level ­students who attended a careers day hosted by The Lawyer’s sister title Lawyer 2B last week, the prospect of getting into a ­mountain of debt was not going to put them off achieving their dreams of breaking into the legal profession.

Joelle Bisimwa, who is ­studying for her A-levels at La Sainte Union Catholic Secondary School in North London, said she was ­worried about paying her university fees and even admitted that the issue had demotivated her from pursuing her ­studies. But after thinking long and hard the 17-year-old, who is taking A-levels in Economics, ­English Literature, Religious Studies and Sociology, decided that she would like to study Law at university regardless of the cost, and is hoping to secure a place at a top university.

Leyton Sixth Form College ­student Raza Kirmani, meanwhile, said the spiralling cost of a ­university education forced him to think about taking a gap year. But, like Bisimwa, the youngster is refusing to concede defeat and hopes to secure a place at a ­London university for2013.

“The cost of going to university is worrying me very much, and is shared with many of the students in my year,” he said. “But I have
a real passion for law and am ­therefore not going to be put off applying for a law degree.”

Bisimwa and Kirmani were among the 250 students selected by their teachers to attend the annual Lawyer 2B Careers Day. Now in its fourth year, the diversity event is aimed at first-year A-level students taking part in the Government’s ­Gifted and Talented and ­Aimhigher programmes.

The two-day event, which attracted students from more than 30 state sixth-form colleges based in some of London’s most deprived boroughs, was hosted once again at BPP Business School, situated next to Norman Foster’s iconic 30 St Mary Axe building, better known as the Gherkin. The location was important for most of the students as it provided them with their first opportunity to step inside the Square Mile.

But rather than facing the daunting prospect of walking into a stuffy law firm building, they were able to gain a detailed insight into the world of a City lawyer in a less ­formal environment, where even those with the least confidence felt ­comfortable enough to ask relevant questions on issues such as work-life balance and diversity (or the lack of it) in the legal profession.

One student was even brave enough to ask Freshfields ­Bruckhaus Deringer partner Christopher Forsyth, who hosted one of the opening sessions with an overview of the legal profession, how much money he made last year. But perhaps just as impressive was Forsyth’s candid response, which resulted in ­several jaws dropping.

“It’s difficult to explain to Year 12 students what lawyers actually do – it’s all a bit abstract,” commented Forsyth. “I was hugely impressed with how engaged the students were and by the directness and ­relevance of their questions.

“For me, the spiralling cost of further education is the single biggest threat to equal access to the professions. The only silver lining may be that, if students do make successful professional careers for themselves, they’re usually well-rewarded for the investment. It’s still a huge ask for students who aren’t lucky enough to have independent financial support.”

In addition to Freshfields, the other law firms participating in this year’s event were Baker & McKenzie, Bircham Dyson Bell, Clifford Chance, Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, Herbert Smith, Linklaters, Slaughter and May and SNR Denton.

Yasmin Ali Khan, the subject leader in Law at Barnet College, said: “We’ve been coming every year since the event was launched as it’s well-organised and the workshops are interactive. As a result lots of our students have gone on to study law at top ­universities. Some have even ­managed to get training contracts.”