At last, the harsh message gets through

Students are finally accepting that law may not even offer a job, let alone big money. But though the numbers are down, the applicants keep coming. By Robert Verkaik

The message that a career in the law no longer guarantees kudos and big money is getting through. Latest figures from the Law Society show a significant drop in the numbers of students applying for solicitors' training on the Legal Practice Course. By early April, only 7,809 students had made applications for courses starting this year, compared with 9,133 at the same time last year. The Law Society, not without some relief, believes it has now turned the tide in creating a fairer balance of competition for places.

Nevertheless, the news will be cold comfort to those students who have amassed large debts, some as much as pounds 15,000, and still without a training contract (formerly solicitor's articles). Mark Dillon, chairman of the 27,000-strong Trainee Solicitors Group, believes the mismatch between the number of students being churned out of the teaching institutions and the far lower number of training places available has caused "incredible grief". "Every trainee knows someone who didn't get a job and who has had to settle for something else," he said.

Yet he also believes the profession only has itself to blame for allowing the management of legal education to reach crisis point.

"People claim they were encouraged in the late Eighties and early Nineties by the general publicity attached to the legal profession to embark upon legal careers," Mr Dillon said. "They did so, only to find by the time they left law college, the chance of them gaining a training contract had diminished considerably."

Artificial solutions to the numbers crisis have already run into legal trouble. The proposal by Martin Mears, the Law Society's president, to put a cap on the number of law students entering the profession was considered unlawful by Richard Drabble QC, who had been instructed to advise the Law Society.

Limiting numbers by admitting only those students with first-class degrees or restricting entry by assessing the ideal needs of the profession would, he suggested, also contravene the Solicitors Act and the Courts and Legal Services Act.

The latest solution, put forward by Mr Mears, is to raise the standard of entry requirement to the Legal Practice Course. This is the route the Bar has taken, leading to a substantial fall in the numbers of trainee barristers leaving the Inns of Court School of Law.

Nick Saunders, head of education at the Law Society, is much encouraged by the latest drop in student applications and accepts that there was a real danger of the situation worsening. But he also points out that, for the good of the profession, there should always be a surplus of law students to training contract places. "It is a pretty competitive environment," he says. "The Law Society has to make it clear there is no guarantee of a job. Yes, it is a harsh message."

But at the turn of the decade, the profession was still fuelling an oversupply of students. The Law Society made provision for other institutions to offer the Law Society's Finals and then the new Legal Practice Course, which replaced the LSF in 1993.

"In the late Eighties, there was talk of an ever-increasing and limitless need for young professionals to fuel the financial boom," says Mr Dillon.

Today, there are 28 different institutions offering Law Society-validated courses throughout the country. Some of these are institutions which run franchised courses from the bigger law colleges.

Many of the new courses are innovative and skilfully taught. But they're also relatively expensive when compared with the old LSF. The one-year LPC course can cost students more than pounds 5,000. The average fees for the LSF were around pounds 3,000. Although some students do feel they have been hoodwinked onto expensive courses without being warned of the risk of not finding a place, Mr Dillon is reluctant to blame the institutions. He says: "The institutions have a responsibility to maximise income. They have no interest in drawing attention to the numbers difficulties. It is the profession which has a duty to make the realities clear to students in both schools and at the universities."

Mr Saunders predicts that the number of students applying to join these courses will continue to fall. "We are not encouraging institutions to apply to us to run full-time courses," he says. "But equally, we can't just tell an institution to go away. The Law Society must judge each application on its merits. However, given the market, an institution would be very foolish to try to get an application off the ground."

Mr Dillon believes some of the law courses, many offering places for mature or hardship students, will simply not make it through the next year. "And that is cause for sadness," he says.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?