Law: Helping students sell themselves: Jenny Goddard has set up a careers advisory service at the College of Law. Sharon Wallach spoke to her

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The Independent Online
THE COLLEGE of Law has set up a careers advisory service in response to what it calls 'the difficulties currently experienced by students about to enter an increasingly competitive marketplace'.

The service will be led by Jenny Goddard, who joins the college from the Law Society, whose careers and recruitment service she ran for three-and-a-half years. Previously, she worked as a careers adviser in a number of higher education institutions, including the University of Bath.

She hopes to have the college's careers service up and running by the beginning of the next academic year. Initially, she will be based at the college's headquarters in Guildford, working principally there and in the college's branch in London. Eventually, Ms Goddard says, there will also be careers advisers in post in the York and Chester branches.

The establishment of a careers service is, says Ms Goddard, 'an imaginative move' on the part of the college, the country's largest training institution for solicitors. The step was taken partly in response to a perceived need on the part of students, not all of whom have identified the direction in which they want to go, and partly because the recession has led to fewer opportunities.

Her role will be to help students identify possibilities and maximise their chances of getting jobs. 'They have to market themselves well,' she says, 'and it was felt that there was a need for someone to give them advice on how to increase their marketability.'

Until now, careers advice has been the province of course tutors, both formally and informally. 'Obviously, a lot of students go for advice to their personal tutors, but we felt that the advice needed to be co-ordinated,' Ms Goddard says. Also, the new legal practice course, beginning in the autumn, will place limits on the time tutors can spare, although, she says, they will still have a contribution to make.

The opportunities for lawyers are varied. 'There are so many directions to go in and so many people interested in the profession. They have to look very carefully where their talents lie.' It is also in the interests of the profession at large that new lawyers are motivated in the right direction, she says.

According to Richard Holbrook, the chairman of the college's board of management, today's students need extra help to find work. 'Five years ago, a student was likely to get local education authority funding for training, which was likely to be supplemented by a bank loan, and after qualifying, there would be little difficulty in finding a training contract,' Mr Holbrook says. 'Today things are very different. Local authority funding is close to collapse; banks are very tight and are not happy to lend unless the student already has a training contract, and training contracts are few and far between.'

Mr Holbrook says that there are about 800 students from last year's course who are still without training contracts. Next year there are likely to be 5,000 students qualifying, from both the college and the new universities, so, he adds, it is anyone's guess how many will find contracts.

A survey by the Trainee Solicitors Group has revealed widespread and large debts among law students, and research published by the college earlier this year suggested that at least half its students had less than pounds 25 a week for food, books and other essentials. The research also quoted figures showing that local education authority contributions to tuition fees at the college fell from 64 per cent of the total cost in 1989 to 24 per cent in 1992 / 93. 'Money's tight, we know they are borrowing and if there is no job in sight, that makes things even worse,' Mr Holbrook says.

In spite of dismal prospects, many students still take the view that whatever happens later they are better off with a further qualification, Mr Holbrook says. 'Even if they can't get work as lawyers, the qualification can do no harm. On the other hand, what else can they do?'

The appointment of a careers adviser has come none too soon for the students. 'Traditionally,' says Mr Holbrook, 'our attitude was that we cater for people who have already made their career choice. So the cost of mounting a full-scale advisory service, met off the back of the students' fees, was not on. There is the salary bill, the accommodation bill, support costs - who pays? The poor student. This is why we were perhaps a little slow in recognising the need for such a service.

'We must suppose that a quarter, if not a third, of our students will have real difficulties finding employment. But we owe them some obligation to help them. Ideally, that will be in the profession, but if not, then either in a related profession, one that will be a career in its own right, or one which will enable the student to move back when things get easier. Our concerns over whether the cost of the service is justified have vanished, because it clearly is.'

(Photograph omitted)

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