Industry News

A Degree of Uncertainty

28 November 2011

In times of austerity and economic uncertainty, soaring tuition fees and the enhanced risk of an interminable job search are eroding the euphoria of graduation. So the question is: what degree would you recommend to a prospective university student?

Economics? History? A science? Would Law make it onto that shortlist? What reasons remain to enter the legal services market? Any law graduate looking to qualify must invest c. £10,000 in the LPC whilst non-law graduates’ exposure is twice that with the GDL as a mandatory conversion. Yes, this may be funded by your future employers, but with 18% fewer training contracts last year (according to Law Society figures), who can afford such a financial risk when the return on that investment is so variable?

Professor Stephen Mayson spoke at a UCL Law debate in London last month and called once more for an overhaul of the various stages involved in qualifying as a solicitor, arguing that the skills legal students and aspiring solicitors should be taught in order to enable them to produce and communicate content with were legal research, writing and reasoning, together with economics. I
have to say I share this view, having myself decided to reinforce my legal education with a business degree and other vocations because I felt that the Law undergraduate course provided few opportunities to harness the ‘soft skills’ required once you enter the profession.

We are witnessing the emergence of an increasingly competitive climate and the legal services sector is no exception, meaning law graduates must prove that they possess not only the ability to interpret and apply legal concepts, but business acumen as well as the confidence and communication skills to . But even then there is a danger that a law firm – or more likely, an Alternative Business Structure (ABS) – will find a more efficient, cost-effective way to deliver the same result. I therefore believe that law students graduating through the current framework will struggle to compete with non-admitted fee earners in the larger firms or ABSs, especially if entity regulation means fewer people will appreciate their specialisms or competencies in a certain area.

Prospective students currently deliberating over which undergraduate course to elect for should be encouraged by the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) (commissioned in November 2010), the vehicle for dictating which way the legal sector should turn at this crossroads. However, whilst the panel has signalled its intent for a comprehensive review by acknowledging that any changes must be sculpted by globalisation, as well as the role that the legal profession plays in society, its members have so far displayed no urgency to commence the review process, conceding that it has met only once and that the report is unlikely to be published before 2013.

Ian Braithwaite
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