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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Changing world of Lawyers

Confession time! I had a remarkably easy ride to qualifying as a solicitor in the early 1980s. I had a student grant and no fees to pay for my Law Degree and Postgraduate course. I went straight from The College of Law into a Training Contract – or Articles as they were back then. On qualification I had a choice of jobs!

To Law Students today that sounds like something from Science fiction.

For them it is a different world and I feel the need to admit my guilt and apologise – but please don’t put that on a You Tube video!

Today’s students face tough competition to get on a course.

Then they have to pay £9k a year in fees for starters, plus living expenses. This is funded by eye watering student loans. Most rack up about £50k’s worth by the time they finish.

Then, to add insult to injury it is nigh on impossible to get a job. Some find themselves working as paralegals for years in the hope that it might lead to a training contract. Well that is the case for would be solicitors, the situation for young barristers is even worse.

There are many who simply drift into a permanent paralegal position and never reach actual qualification.

Those who do get training contracts now face the additional problem of the abolition of a minimum salary so they might be paid a pittance after years of hard work and accumulated debt.

This could take us back decades to a time when only the rich became lawyers. A legal profession which does not benefit from talent from across society is not representing that society.

I suspect that we will see more students qualifying via different routes. There is already talk of introducing competencies which can be reached in different ways. So paralegals and legal executives will be able to achieve the same status as Solicitors and Barristers even if they don’t use the name. The Legal Executive qualification was given a massive boost when the Institute earned its Charter earlier this year. By this route we have ‘lawyers’ who have worked in the real world. When I was let loose on the world in 1980 I was as clueless as could be!

So instead of going to study law we could see school leavers beginning what is in effect a legal apprenticeship. It is clear that something has to change.

The traditional pathway through academia and exams must surely decline. And the profession could be the stronger for it.

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