There is no denying that the legal market is saturated, that is, if we believe what everyone in the legal market is telling us. Let’s face it, why would we not believe them? When the statistics show the number of qualifying lawyers without a training contract, pupillage, tenancy etc, it is hard to argue against the facts. When law students and graduates alike are advised to think about alternatives to legal jobs and lawyer recruitment in London, it is often easy to think that the legal industry is inherently negative. But is it so? This is what this article seeks to explore.
The main question this article looks at, is whether the legal industry is as negative as everyone seems to perceive it to be, or whether there is any room for graduates to be optimistic about their future. We are all aware of the competition in the legal world being fierce yet people do continue to pursue their goals to try and secure a place as a lawyer. From experience, when attending events about pursuing a career in the legal world, the message is a negative one. But can you blame the industry when there are people spending thousands of pounds, getting further in debt and often not reaching the desired goal of a training contract or tenancy? The advice is clear: if you are passionate about the law then pursue your career but do not have any misgivings about your future. Coated in that advice is a negative message; you may not end up reaching your desired career goal despite having invested so much financially and emotionally. As indeed Michael Mansfield QC said;
I think if they’re aware of the difficulties, you say to somebody: ‘It’s a pretty hopeless situation, on the other hand, if you feel you’re up for it I’m not going to discourage you from doing it, as long as you’re aware of the odds.’
With the warnings seeming to be of a negative outlook, those who doubt their chances in the legal market are going to easily be dissuaded from continuing.
Adding to this, is the number of law graduates who do not know what career to pursue and so train to become a lawyer as a back up goal. There is no cap on law students, nor on those taking the LPC (Legal Practice Course) or BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course), which leads to hundreds of students going through the system and ending up without a job as a lawyer. The fees involved are enough to put off a student who is already paying high university fees from pursuing a career as a lawyer. Is it any wonder that the legal industry does come across as being negative when there is a saturation of people qualifying?
So far it is evident that the message is a bleak one. Yet, even with this picture, there are still plenty of determined law students who seek to pursue their goal of being a lawyer. Many know that the market is saturated, the prospects are poor and that all the work may end up leading to nothing but there is that high level of determination driving people to achieve their best and make their mark on the legal market.
I decided that I would do a quick straw poll through Twitter asking for people’s views on the topic of this article. The general consensus is that the market is indeed a difficult one to conquer. Many comment that they have the determination and drive to push through in the difficult times in order to reach their goal, no matter what gets in their way. It is that determination that gives people the motivation to succeed despite the warnings from the legal industry. Many law students still have a positive attitude towards their career prospects. There are still plenty of students who enter the legal world with the hope of becoming lawyers. There are also plenty of people who do succeed, however, coupled with that are the numbers who do not reach their goal and have to alter their plans.
It is important to also remember that there is help from the legal world to cover finances. Law firms and Inns of Courts offer financial aid, ranging from scholarships covering all costs, to those that contribute to costs. Gaining a training contract with a law firm may mean that a student need not pay any fees and receive a nominal figure towards living costs. Whilst this will not be given to every single student, it is a positive step that the legal industry is taking to assist those lawyers who want to conquer the legal world.
Regarding Training Contracts, Magic Circle law firms take on around 100 trainees each year. A number of other firms take on around 50-60, with smaller firms taking on 10-20. Whilst one might think that these numbers are small in comparison to the number of people on the LPC, it is not dissimilar to the Bar where there are around 500 pupillages offered. Everyone has a chance to get one of these places and ensuring the passion, drive and commitment is there, you will increase your chances.
It could be easy to forget that there are other alternatives out there for law students. It is no longer the case that a law student solely studies a degree in order to become a solicitor or barrister. A law degree is a valuable tool. Many people go on to pursue careers in industry or government, undertake further study or change career plans. Even within the legal industry there are many roles such as that of a paralegal, legal secretary or legal executive. Many of these alternative legal routes are not only good standalone career options, but they could even lead to further employment, and boosting your credentials! Even though the legal market is a difficult one, getting experience through alternative legal careers is going to be positive in the long run.
With the market being the way it is, there are many professionals encouraging students to enter the legal market, but not straight away. Having attended a LegalCheek event, it was advised that students would be better off gaining life experience after graduating before commencing the LPC/BPTC etc. The reason being that whilst the market is difficult to get into, ensuring that you as an individual stand out, will boost your chances of securing a training contract or pupillage/tenancy. Whilst it is saying that the market is difficult (i.e. a negative assertion) the legal industry is encouraging people to boost their chances of success (i.e. something positive).
I now turn to a point raised during a discussion with a fellow LLM student. It is the case in most industries that a career will be difficult to carve out. It could be questioned whether, because our specialism as lawyers is the legal industry, we may forget that many people in other professions are facing difficulties. Each industry does have their own difficulties and challenges that people attempting to enter the market are faced with. It may even be the case that the legal industry is not actually being negative but rather being realistic and pragmatic. As with any career, there will be those who succeed and those who are not as lucky. This is what happens in any career.
Whilst it may seem that the legal market is a negative industry, opportunities for graduates and law students still exist. The advice given by many people in the legal market, whilst it is easy to be perceived as negative, falls most likely into the category of ensuring that students and graduates are informed about the reality. There are opportunities out there for law students and graduates alike. It comes down to people finding the opportunities in difficult times. It is key to remember that a lot of law students find themselves in the same position. I end with another point that came up whilst conversing with a fellow LLM student. It is key to make sure that when wanting to enter the legal industry, people look at what is happening in the market, remain objective and ensure they take informed decisions. If you really want it, then as with most careers, go ahead and get it but ensure that you have a realistic perspective on what is happening in the market.