England: Legal profession ‘socially-exclusive’ according to student survey

Lord Denning

A majority of law students think the legal profession is socially exclusive according to a survey undertaken for The Times.

The survey, undertaken by the University of Law, also found that nearly half of female students thought their gender was a barrier to progress.

Students are also struggling with record levels of debt.

Over half have a minimum of £20,000 in debts, while the average debt is £21,170 as compared with £17,150 in the year before.

Forty-six per cent of students would prefer undertaking an apprenticeship to become a solicitor instead of a degree and training contract – or even simply the contract.

Similarly, 38 per cent of aspiring barristers would like a similar option.

Fourteen per cent of respondents cited integrity as a lawyer’s most important quality while a mere three per cent chose honesty and intelligence.

Aspiring solicitors’ primary reason for wanting to enter the profession was given as the “intellectual challenge” in addition to the variety of work, an interest in the law and the earning potential afforded by the job.

For barristers, altruism was a stronger factor in striving for the bar, with their top reason being a desire to help people followed by the intellectual challenge.

The survey also found the decision to join the profession was made early, with nearly 66 per cent of respondents deciding on law before beginning university and 17 per cent while they were there.

A third were encouraged by their parents to becomes lawyers but fewer than one in four had family in the law.

Barristers’ family links to the profession was stronger, with 29 per cent having a lawyer relative.

As for practice areas, would be barristers, despite the diminishing attractiveness of the job, favoured criminal law.

Would-be solicitors meanwhile favoured careers in commercial law.

Gaining a training contract or pupillage was given as the main concern of 32 per cent of those surveyed.

However, 78 per cent – and 96 per cent last year – had managed to get some work experience.

Thirty-one per cent had bagged legal internships, although this was down from 41 per cent in the previous year.

The majority had also undertaken volunteering work.

In terms of recruitment, over 75 per cent favoured the CV-blind approach of some law firms.

Those against this approach claimed it discriminates against students from good universities; with good experience; or from a different professional background.

About 85 per cent thought the profession socially exclusive while 16 per cent thought it “very” socially exclusive and 69 per cent “somewhat” so.

As for gender, just under half of women thought being a woman was a barrier to becoming partner or reaching board level.

A significant proportion disagreed though – citing instead their skills, ability, and determination as factors that would no hold them back.

Two-thirds thought life in corporate law excessively stressful, while 70 per cent thought the same of life as a legal aid lawyer.

But only 40 per cent of hopeful barristers thought the same of the bar.

Debts are rising – the average debt students can look forward to when starting a training contract or pupillage is at £23,380, up from £19,800 last year.

That said, expected earnings are now at record levels, with NQs being paid £41,750 and newly-called barristers £37,210.

Finally, Lord Denning remains a top role model for students in addition to Deputy President of the Supreme Court Lady Hale and, of course, Amal Clooney.

Interestingly, a third of respondents would not date fellow lawyers.

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