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.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice