Open up the club

Members of law firms and chambers should help students to forge links with the profession in a mentoring scheme, says Abdul Hoq Mohammed, pictured right, in the winning entry in The College of Law/ The Independent Essay Competition

The legal profession suffers from a want of egalitarianism. Certain conditions exist that indicate inequality within the system. There is a scarcity of funding, which weans out the talented but less affluent. There is a clandestine custom of patronage, which discards the talented but poorly connected. Finally, there is a hierarchy in educational institutions, which condescends upon the talented but unconventional. Barriers to entry into the legal profession are numerous. The key to the breaking down of these barriers is the establishment of a meritocracy within the process.

In the course of this essay, the struggle between two conflicting theories must be borne in mind. The conflict in question is that between a "professional" law degree and an "academic" law degree. Should university legal education be any more vocational and practical than it is at present or should students be allowed to learn at liberty as their peers in other degree courses are able to? It seems evident that in order to break down barriers, some compromise is required at this fundamental level. Complete liberty for universities to grant students the right to learn exactly what they want would possibly prove detrimental to the very students who are already disadvantaged.

Specialist colleges (such as my own) offer unconventional courses of immense attraction to their students, but of comparatively lightweight importance to the major firms. The compulsory study of six or seven core units produces some uniformity and enables such a student, having entered the office of the recruiting manager at a large firm, to elucidate upon the exquisite merits of a course on law and society in South Asia, comfortable in the knowledge that minimum academic requirements have been met.

Yet three factors stand out as barriers to entering the profession.

As the Government tightens the screws on discretionary funding, education becomes viable only for the privileged. In legal education, aspirants face the additional hurdle of attempting to procure funding for the professional training courses. The fees are nightmarish. To alleviate this nightmare, a scheme should be set up where students are selected, after A-levels, to be assisted throughout their course. The scheme could take the form of a partnership between the College of Law and several law firms and chambers.

At present, it may be difficult to identify potential lawyers at such a nascent stage. Perhaps the solution would be a remoulded law A-level that provides a proper foundation for an LLB degree. Attainment in such an A-level could be a strong indicator of a student's potential.

The second problem is that of patronage - "It is not what you know, but who you know." The legal profession is a club, further divided into exclusive cliques. The difficulties thus posed for the naive cannot be emphasised enough. It appears that patronage is a phenomenon which cannot be entirely eradicated within the present academic and professional infrastructure.

The solution is perhaps to develop a form of counter-patronage, whereby inadequately connected law students are put in contact with professionals on a systematic basis. The mechanism could take the form of a "mentor" scheme. This type of scheme has proved to be very constructive at GCSE and A-level standard, for disadvantaged students at less prestigious schools in search of positive role models. For our purposes, a system could be devised in which participating law firms and chambers agree to assist selected students at designated universities. A central body, such as the Law Society, could undertake to assign firms to universities on a rotating yearly basis. An initiative such as this would go a long way in bringing down the tradition of certain firms exclusively favouring certain colleges when recruiting trainees. Previously blinkered firms and chambers would have their eyes opened to the considerable talent scattered outside the most eminent institutions; and the students would be able to forge invaluable links with the profession.

The final scourge to access involves a conspiracy of disinformation and discouragement. At A-level stage, students are informed by careers advisers and others that entry into Oxbridge is an essential for a career in the law. It is an unfortunate reality that this assertion is true to an extent. Students should be able to explore the law, and discover its diversity and peculiarities without ruining their prospects of employment. It is abundantly clear that many discerning and meritorious students choose not to go to Oxbridge, as they intend to study courses available only at other institutions.

Recent press reports have highlighted a plan being developed by the vice- chancellors of several prestigious universities to form a "premier league" of institutions. That is an horrendous idea. The hierarchical nature of current legal recruitment could receive no greater boost. Other considerations aside, it is incorrect to suggest that the reputations of these universities inevitably entails brilliance in their law departments.

If it is found that the ideas outlined above are not sufficient to break down barriers, it may be necessary to take a more radicalapproach.

One could suggest the introduction of a central applications mechanism for professional recruitment (akin to the format applied for the LPC/CPE). An even more drastic step might be to restructure the whole process of legal education by creating an amalgamated course combining the present law degree and practice course/bar exam.

Thus, a law course would become similar to a medicine degree, combining theory and practice. This might require the formation of new specialised law schools. (It may also, although not necessarily, require the merger of the two branches of the profession.) Admittedly, such a system would probably restrict the opportunities for unconventional courses, increase competition, and isolate the law from the rest of education yet further. However, it is anticipated that, as the traditional hierarchy of institutions is eliminated, equality would finally reign supreme

Abdul Hoq Mohammed, 20, is the winner of the first Access to Legal Education award, sponsored by the College of Law and 'The Independent'. He has been awarded the prize of a year's fees at the College of Law's Legal Practice Course.

The judges in the competition included Colin Hughes, deputy editor of 'The Independent'; Cherie Booth QC, Professor Nigel Savage, chief executive of the College of Law, and Professor John Daniel, vice-chancellor of the Open University.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence