Break down the barriers: the barriers to entering the legal profession

Not being able to get work experience whilst in school, attending the wrong university, the inability to afford the necessary qualifications and fierce competition are only some of the barriers to entry into the legal profession. Third year law student, Abby Spalding, discusses the challenges faced by aspiring lawyers today.

The popularity of law in UK Universities, undoubtedly spurred by the desire to earn high figured salaries immediately after qualifying, has resulted in a surge of law graduates. This has had massive effects on the level of competition when obtaining Training Contracts, as a steppingstone to become a qualified solicitor. In 2020, firms offered 1357 training contracts, which resulted in a total of more than 70,000 applications. Resulting in a very staggering 2% success rate. This has only increased with the number of students last year that deferred their applications to training contracts due to COVID. This has resulted in an even lower success rates due to the increased applications in the coming year. Revealing how big of a barrier to entry the fierce competition can be.

Within this massive competition even more barriers are established to those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The phrase ‘It’s not what you know but who you know’, in the context of entering the legal profession could not ring more true. Work experience plays an invaluable role in obtaining a training contract, as having relevant experience significantly increases the chances of being offered a training contract by 63%. Obtaining work experience is a barrier in itself for those of a lower socioeconomic background, as they are unlikely to have family members with connections to law firms, to obtain this work experience.  This means that those from lower social backgrounds who are not able to attend work experience through family connections are so much less likely to obtain a Training Contract than those in more privileged positions who are able to do so. This reveals the shocking role that class plays in acting as a barrier to entry. Not only does this result in the continuous white elitism culture in the legal profession, but also increases competition between those without connections to fight for the remaining positions, without impressive work experience on their CVs.

The cost of entering the legal profession is a commitment that many graduates do not want to pay/can’t afford to pay. Even after paying thousands of pounds for a law degree, there is still an additional £12,000 to pay to complete an LPC. For those that are not lucky enough to obtain a training contract which will pay for their LPC, the cost to enter the profession is enough a barrier to discourage them from continuing to pursue law. With it being found that 38% of students fund their LPC with money from their parents, and those without this option often end up in debt or choose to stop pursuing law altogether. Despite the introduction of the new SQE which aims to increase social mobility by costing around £5000, many law firms still only recognise the LPC route, due to its notoriety. Therefore, these changes are not as effective in addressing social mobility as were originally thought. And it will take years for this new implementation to have any significant impact on addressing social mobility and reducing barriers to entry.

Even if a graduate is lucky enough to have been able to obtain work experience, get into and pass university and complete the LPC, as The Legal Education and Training Review Report 2013 has put it: “Inevitably, some [graduates] will spend considerable sums in pursuit of a career that they are never likely to achieve”. This reveals that even if a graduate has overcome the prior barriers and hurdles to entering the legal profession, there is still no guarantee that a job will be waiting for them at the end. This discloses perhaps the most tragic barrier to entry – that even if graduates work hard enough or are lucky enough to get passed the first few hurdles, the likely outcome of the hours, money and time graduates put into qualifying, will be for nought due to the sheer amount of barriers that are currently standing in the way of the legal career they dreamed of.

Abby Spalding

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