From my latest Solicitors Journal column “Family Business”, 9/12/2013.
Law students are misinformed about training contracts, says Marilyn Stowe
Despite the swingeing cuts to legal aid, firms shutting across the country and a high rate of depression within the legal profession, among ambitious young students there persists a belief that a law degree is effectively a licence to print money. What is less well-known is that only about one in three graduates will have a training contract waiting for them at the end of the Legal Practice Course (LPC), and that even fever will be offered a permanent role with a law firm.
Since I graduated more than 30 years ago, the number of places on university law courses has soared. The number of universities offering law degrees has increased dramatically too. Years ago, obtaining an LPC place felt like a Herculean feat. It was as difficult to secure a place as it had been to get accepted to read law in the first place. You had to go all out to demonstrate your dedication to the vocation. I volunteered throughout my university years, working weekends and late nights. Following my degree I went on to lecture in law at a university in France for a year.
Today, with so many more LPC places available, it seems to be the universities and other institutions competing for students, rather than the other way around. One university boasts that its fees are almost 20 per cent cheaper than other providers; another course provider promotes its flexible study options. Don’t get me wrong: from what I have seen of the would-be lawyers emerging from the other side, there are plenty of high-calibre graduates out there. But I fear that in 2013, the choice of whether to embark on the LPC seems to largely depend on funding.
True, the modern LPC has much to recommend it. Years ago the course was far less interactive than it is now, and it leaned heavily upon the study of jargon-filled textbooks. To an extent, this will always be the case: it is a law course, after all. However, today’s students benefit not just from an excellent education, but also from a host of newly-gained practical skills. Graduates also receive help with their careers and get independent and honest advice on how to find training contracts and excel.
What unsettles me is that some universities are now accepting such high numbers of aspiring solicitors every year. The majority of those who want to pursue their dream careers will secure LPC places. However, most of these young graduates will never see the career into which they have invested so much time and money. Many won’t be able to secure a training contract. In one of the cities in which my firm has an office, one of the local universities takes on 300 students a year – but right now, most of the local law firms only open up one or two training contracts every year.
There simply aren’t enough training contracts to go around.
I appreciate that all kinds of educational institutions are under pressure to keep the money coming in, but is it responsible to produce three times as many would-be trainees as there are open positions each year?
In England and Wales today, the law profession maintains an extremely high entry bar. To make it, you really need to want it, and be able to stand out from day one. Would so many students proceed with “safe” law degrees and the LPC if they had these statistics at hand to begin with?
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal, and is reproduced by kind permission