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Monday, July 16, 2012

Are Law Students Conned? Discuss

'LLB graduates and in fact A-Level students are ripped off regularly by education providers'.  This may sound like a fairly controversial statement, which of course it is, but here are the arguments for suggesting that students are regularly ripped off by providers.

  • Students without sufficient grades to ever qualify are allowed, if not encouraged, to take degrees that will not enable them to progress.  
  • When students have graduated they are encouraged to take courses at Masters level and post graduate diploma but would never increase (or decrease) their career prospects.
  • Students are encouraged to take the BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course) when they have absolutely no hope in hell of ever getting pupillage at the Bar which at best is elitist and at worst is nepotistic.  
  • Instead of encouraging A-Level students to go and do courses that could lead into relatively secure jobs in engineering or science or indeed IT, teachers encourage them to do classics and legal studies, despite there being no jobs at the end of the courses.      
  • The standard of law taught at some universities has absolutely no bearing at all on any future legal career as the tutors teaching on those courses have never been in practice or the teaching is loaded towards training at the Bar.
These are my arguments for supporting the suggestion that an almighty rip off is taking place and that some people believe there is a conspiracy of sorts between the education cabal of the LPC and BPTC providers and the Law Society/SRA.

The mass of unemployed law graduates can only be good for one type of thing, which is a career of paralegal and intern work.

We are getting to the point where there are so many unemployed LPC graduates out there who have never worked in the legal profession apart from for work experience and who have absolutely no hope in hell of ever finding a training contract because their grades are so low and they do not have sufficient work experience or contacts in the industry, that they are probably wasting years of their lives trying to get into law when their earning capacity as a lawyer is extremely minimal.

I have to say that the recent removal of the minimum wage has again probably more to do with the education providers wanting to be able to push more of their students into training contracts than anything to do with quality or survival of the profession.

I argue that the only way to keep solicitors as respected members of society undertaking an important task is to restrict numbers of entrants in and not to open the floodgates.

The problem with opening the floodgates is that you end up with a profession that is similar to accountants.

The problem accountants have is that there are so many different types of them and that anyone can call themselves an accountant, be they chartered or otherwise, that the status of accountants has been completely diluted.  This works well for the larger companies who could employ armies of part-qualified staff but on the high street means that nobody actually trusts the qualification or brand of accountants any more.

The same is going to happen with solicitors and is probably taking place right now at an alarming rate.

The removal of the minimum wage means that a lot more people will be able to get training contracts, but once they have completed their training contracts there will be an awful lot more lawyers out there who are qualified solicitors that have never worked as a solicitor because no-one will employ them due to the standard of their education and training.

This gets me back to my first point. No matter how you look at it, eventually if you do not have decent A-Level grades and a good undergraduate degree then chances are your career in law will be fairly stunted and is unlikely to ever provide you with a meaningful career or income.  This is where the ripping off of students takes place because no-one ever tells them this. So many times I have been career coaching over the years and picked up a CV for someone who has grades D, D and E at A-Level and a very low 2:2 Degree, coupled with hardly any work experience and them complaining that they cannot get work experience or a training contract.

Don’t get me started on Barristers, where the vast majority I would argue give the perception that they have found their jobs through family friends and almost always has nothing to do with merit or ability (although I concede that I haven't professionaly met many incompetent barristers).

In summary, I would argue that a restriction on entry would be of great benefit to the legal profession. 

Restrict the numbers coming in so that only those people with a very good degree and outstanding A-Levels can progress, and reduce the number of law schools offering the Legal Practice Course and the BPTC.

Furthermore, the advertising standards agency should keep a close watch on any advertising that encourages people to spend money on academic courses where either they are completely unsuitable or the academic course providers make unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of doing that particular course (LLM advertising in recent times is a good example).

One anecdote to finish with.  I recently career coached a person who was contemplating a second career as a barrister. She had a friend who was a barrister who had told her that she would make a very good barrister.  She had spoken to a local University, who shall remain nameless, and was advised by their admissions secretary to take the LLB undergraduate degree because this was the best grounding anyone could have in order to become a lawyer.

However, her grades at A-Level were very poor and she already had an undergraduate degree. Obviously she did not need to take another one and probably would be eligible to go straight onto the graduate diploma in law (GDL), which of course that particular university did not provide.

This type of advice is absolutely shocking and could have cost this particular person many thousands of pounds and years of her life.  I do not think she would have ever have managed to qualify as a barrister and even if she had the costs would have been astronomical in terms of the debt she may have racked up.  As someone who could not afford this, with young children and a mortgage, this was clearly not the career move to take and the particular University in question should be ashamed of themselves.
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