Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New universities and the legal profession

A question was recently asked in a Magic Circle firm of someone who had been to a new university (former polytechnic) as to whether they were ashamed of their degree (and by inference the university).

The question was a very interesting one, not only for the position it put the interviewee in and the challenge that the question faced from that angle, but also because of the perception of new universities in the legal profession.

Sometimes people forget that many years ago the only students who were allowed to study law were those who gained very good A-level grades of As and Bs and went to a red brick university. Polytechnics on the whole were offering courses, but they were not geared towards people qualifying as solicitors but rather being academics or a mix of work and were not usually LLB degrees. I could be wrong on this and I apologise profusely to the former polytechnics if this was not the case, but there does seem to have been a complete change in the courses of recent times. Nowadays every university college and former polytechnic offer law degrees, and they usually offer them to anyone who is alive still as opposed to anyone with very good A-level grades.

Partners of law firms come from a generation when you had to have good grades to qualify as a solicitor or barrister. This means that when they look at a CV and notice A-level grades like D, E, E or GCSE or O-level results of a similar level, they are very likely to be quite biased against you.

The graduate who was asked the question about being ashamed of her university said she understood entirely that they were looking for consistency in the academic qualifications of a candidate. Obviously if you have only managed to get D, D, E at A-level, it is unlikely you will be attending a red brick university to study your law degree and as a result by the very definition it is likely that a lot of the students at the former polytechnics and new universities do not have very good A-level grades. Most students who get good A-level grades are rarely to be found in such institutions as they do tend to focus on the red brick universities because not only are the courses considered better quality, the universities are held in greater esteem and offer more scope for progression at the end. Furthermore, the requirements to get into the older universities are usually more onerous which indicates a good level of teaching to anyone wanting to apply.

My own perception of new universities is probably along those lines. I still look at CVs now and if I see that someone has been to a new university I almost do not need to look at their A-level grades to see that their academic history is not consistent.

It actually makes life very easy if reviewing a whole batch of CVs to be able to spot those who are going to be looking at very good quality firms and well paid jobs and those who are going to be looking towards the more high street end of the market.

It is perhaps this bias that leaked out during the interview question I have described as I am sure it is a view held similarly across the legal profession. The Magic Circle firms, there are a lot of Oxford and Cambridge graduates and just particular sort of university graduate does not appreciate students who have failed in their academic history so far, but might be doing Oxford and Cambridge graduates a disservice, but I think this is a fairly accurate view as Oxford and Cambridge students and graduates consider themselves to be quietly superior to just about every other student from a different university and this is probably quite a fair perception to hold as it is certainly an achievement to get into those two universities regardless of your background status in society.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. He can be contacted for press comment at or visit the website at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I do approve of more universities offering law courses, this has a significant ripple effect, as more universities offering law courses mean more students, and more students mean more competition amongst them, and more competition means more difficulty in landing a good legal training contract.