A question we are asked quite regularly by law students is whether they should be looking to start a legal career if they only have a third class degree (sometimes this can be a 2:2 as well).
If you have a third class degree it is important to bear in mind the main issue, which is that quite a few firms, if not the vast majority, use the class of a degree as a benchmark to determine whether or not to shortlist that person for interview. Third class degree applicants are very easy to filter, as it is the perfect excuse to get rid of a reasonably sized number of applicants without needing to read the CV. If you see it from the firm’s perspective, if you have 100 CVs for one training contract position then filtering them out via this method is an easy way of reducing the number without needing to do very much work at all or think about it.
So I suppose in one sense, it is so difficult to find a training contract with a third class degree, it is possibly next to impossible. There is almost a feeling within the legal profession that if you have not achieved academically you are unlikely to achieve as a lawyer and therefore there is some justification in not considering third class applicants. After all, if you could choose between a candidate with a 2:1 degree, good A level results, and a steady and fairly successful academic career with a bit of work experience or someone with a third class degree, no work experience and who has struggled through their A levels, I’m sure I know who I would choose.
That said, it is not impossible. If you have a look for example on www.ten-percent.co.uk/careers_centre.htm you will see that a third class degree graduate has written to us to say to other people not to give up hope, that she has managed to qualify as a solicitor. However, I would say that this is the exception to the norm. if you have a third class degree your struggle is going to be that twice that of someone with a 2:1 or a 2:2 and you may never actually qualify as a solicitor. It is only those that have their determination to succeed who would actually manage to find a training contract, and the rest of the applicants disappear.
However, when I was lecturing last year on careers I was astonished to find a good number of students doing a legal practice course who had a third class degree, and I was very surprised to see this as these students were going to struggle to find training contracts, yet were spending many thousands of pounds on the cost of training. Not only that, but very few of them had work experience or shown that many signs on their CVs that they had any enthusiasm or determination to succeed as lawyers.
The main advice I can give is not to give up hope, but to be aware that to succeed now having achieved a third class degree you will have to work two, three or four times as hard as anyone else, and it may take a very long time indeed.
Instead, doing a master’s degree to counterbalance the third class degree is probably counterproductive in the vast majority of cases. Firms are unlikely to ignore the third class degree and consider the master’s degree as an alternative.
Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk). He regularly commentates and writes on the state of the legal profession, legal careers and law students, and can be contacted for press comments or free careers advice at firstname.lastname@example.org