It’s frighteningly expensive, brutally competitive and even when successful, grindingly hard work – but young people should not be dissuaded from studying law, a combination of top academics and leading lawyers told London sixth-formers yesterday at Lawyer 2B’s Year 12 Careers Day.
“It is a very competitive profession and one where the structure of law firms is changing,” said Professor John Clifford, BPP’s deputy director of LLB programmes.”But those students that are really determined to succeed will be able to do so. Perhaps not in the area of law that they might have initially been interested in, but they will still go on to be happy in the profession.”
He was speaking to some 100 year-12 students from 14 London state schools at Lawyer 2B’s seventh annual careers day, which featured presentations from top City law firms Slaughter and May, Baker & McKenzie and leading London private client practice Forsters.
But even if students don’t qualify as lawyers, a law degree should still be viewed as a valuable staging post on a successful career path. Indeed, Clifford maintains that of the 1,300 students currently on BPP’s law degree programme, up to half will go into other careers.
“Law is an excellent grounding for all sorts of roles,” said Clifford, pinpointing management, politics, the civil service, and senior echelons of the police and prison services. “Those with law degrees exhibit attention to detail and an ability to concentrate on complicated matters.”
Indeed, the panel at a workshop session demonstrated that point. Run by Forsters, none of the three lawyers had studied law at undergraduate level, while the one non-lawyer from the Forsters team – human resources executive James Gilbert, was a law graduate.
Gilbert told the students that if they wanted to join the legal profession, they should “do lots of research and make good use schools careers services.” He said that while it is important to take note of the escalating costs of qualification, it should not be a deterrent.
Bursaries and scholarships are available for the conversion course – the Graduate Diploma in Law, while City law firms fully subsidise fees for the vocational legal practice course for those students to whom they have offered training contracts. The big firms often also make provide subsistence allowances during the LPC to those offered training contracts.
Clifford pointed to a range of core benefits for studying law – it is academically challenging, has a universality of application, and high employability rates. On a more practical level, he said, “it touches every aspect of our lives – from the Shreddies we have for breakfast, which are covered by food production regulations, to the road traffic rules governing our journey to school or work. No wonder there are so many lawyers.”
Illustrating the practicalities of law, Clifford told the sixth-formers that if they became lawyers, “people will constantly ask you questions – I’ve been sacked, what can I do? This mobile ’phone I bought a few months ago has packed up; can I get my money back? I’ve been stopped by the police five times in one day; what can I do?”
With his tongue partially in cheek, Clifford told students that along with medicine, law was the most useful subject to study. “Who cares about the wives of Henry VIII or the chemical properties of various metals?”
But he acknowledged that the changing structure of the legal profession – combined with ever-increasing lawyer numbers – meant competition to qualify and succeed in practice was fierce. Indeed, that sentiment was picked up by the students’ teachers.
“Students need to get some initial experience of what the law is about before considering a career because it is a difficult market,’ commented Asma Yasin from Harrow College. “They need to know the realities of the competitive nature of the profession. That it is not as plain sailing and as glamorous as they might think.”
Her lecturer colleague, Sahr Sumana, said students often had an unrealistic view of legal practice. “Some have the impression that the law is all about Judge Judy. We try to give them a dose of reality by bringing them to events like this and to day trips to the Crown Court.”
Monique James, 18 years old; year 12 at Barnet and Southgate College
“I’ve wanted to be a lawyer from a young age, and I’m very interested in criminal law. There is something about murder cases that fascinates me – it’s all about how the police handle cases.
“I’m currently looking for work experience at a law firm and then doing a law degree with modern languages.
“I’m very much aware of the stiff competition in the legal profession, but that just makes me want to do it more.”
Hassan Yazdi, 17 years old
“The law is the fundamental core to society – without law there would be total chaos. I want to do a law and politics degree.”
Maryam Qureshi, 17 years old; year 12 at Harrow College
“I’ve wanted to be a solicitor ever since I was a child and have done some work experience at a local high street law firm, where I sat in on client meetings.
“Ultimately, I’d like to work in international law or commercial law, although I’m aiming to do a history degree first and then do the conversion course.”
Edem Torgo, 19 years old; year 13 Barnet and Southgate College
“Our teachers make us very aware of the all the difficulties involved in qualifying into the legal profession. But I still want to do a law degree and become a solicitor. At first I thought about focusing on commercial law, but have become more interested in family law.”