On May 17th 2010 4,500 lawyers and associates walked in the 2010 London Legal sponsored walk raising over £400,000 for legal advice charities in London and the South East. The walk was led by a host of legal stars including the Lord Chief Justice, The Master of the Rolls, The Attorney General, The Solicitor General, The Director of Public Prosecutions, The Official Solicitor, The Treasury Solicitor, the Presidents of the Law Society and ILEX and the Chair of the Bar as well as the President of the Family Division, the Chair of the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, The Recorder of London, The London Chief Prosecutor and many more.
Yet more new bloggers emerge
If you fancy discovering: How can a penguin help to solve a cold case? I hear you ask….well…..
And… I am delighted to accept a contribution to the legal education debate with this ‘guest post’ from Dr Shibley Rahman….
Law schools need to manage great expectations
“Now, I return to this young fellow. And the communication I have got to make is, that he has great expectations.”
Mr Jaggers about Pip, Chapter 18.
The reason that I am writing this guest blog post is because of a recent podcast (by Charon QC) entitled, “Lawcast 181: Baroness Deech, Chair of The Bar Standards Board on legal education and the regulation of the profession”
I really enjoyed this thought-provoking and interesting podcast, which I think is highly relevant to my arm of the profession too: the solicitors. I am one of hundreds of thousands bombarding the corporate law firms with my training contract application. Without a training contract, I can’t actually be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors. This obviously concerns me. The bottom line: there are thousands of students who won’t get Pupillages either, as the market is so intensively competitive.
That is why I applaud Baroness Deech so much for raising awareness of issues which are extremely important to me as a student. I am yet to do my LPC, which I will do at BPP (Waterloo) between January and September 2012, although I have completed my LLM at the College of Law (2008-2010) and GDL at BPP (2006-2008). My first five degrees were in medicine and natural sciences at Cambridge; as I obtained the second highest First there and my PhD following AAAA11 at A level, I can put myself firmly into the ‘academic’ camp. However, given my interests in research, I wish very much to find innovative solutions one day as a legal practitioner. The specific aspect to my application, which I tend not to reveal, is my strong research output in frontotemporal dementia, for reasons I’ll explain later. I decided to study law late in my life, as I became strongly interested in aspects of the law by accident (e.g. constitutional issues, regulation of financial services, access to justice) and I wished to pursue a formal qualification in it. I have no reservations about pursuing corporate law either. There are many eminent lawyers who have come from a non-legal route. Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, the current Master of the Rolls, studied chemistry at Christ Church, Oxford.
I only passed my GDL, but I spent 50% of it in a wheelchair doing it by distance learning because of a two month coma due to meningitis which left me disabled. I am aware of the arguments that law course providers “mass-produce graduates” akin to a sausage factory, but in my case BPP were extraordinarily flexible and compassionate about completion of my GDL. I have loved my time there, not only because of the actual course, but because of the people that I’ve met. Many of the well-known corporate firms have told me that, whilst their official criterion is AAB at A level and a II.1, the vast majority of their good candidates have considerably better qualifications, but they can only invite a small proportion to interview. Some law firms have an intake of even 5-10 per session. My GDL pass is ‘tolerated’, only given my extenuating circumstances, I feel. I happen to believe that 20 problem questions across 7 topics in the GDL, compared to 12 difficult essays in my Finals, does not reveal much about how one can analyse different sides of an argument critically, in the first place, but my views on this are utterly irrelevant. They must surely be testing different things, and I hope that the Joint Academic Stage Board are able to make sense of this. My LLM commendation “looks better”, but one firm indeed wanted a Distinction.
There are other questions on the application form for training contracts which raise eyebrows with me. One is the “Why law?” question, but there are people who have genuinely questioned my commitment to being a legal practitioner given my academic publications record. I run myself a student society to raise awareness of how commercial and legal worlds interact (http://legal-aware.org), but I often find students reluctant to take part unless there’s something in it for them (like, for example, a training contract application mention). I feel strongly now that law schools now need to offer quality careers advice in careers other than law, such as teaching, the financial services or charity work (e.g. in human rights). Notwithstanding that, I feel sorry for the fact that law firms have to ask this question at the point before offering a training contract, when one feels that this should have been addressed prior to assumption of a GDL/LPC/BPTC place.
The next obvious way to tackle the “Why law?” question might be therefore to cite legal experience. Whilst firms have told me officially that it doesn’t matter whether this work experience is legal or not, invariably at interview partners have asked me about my relative lack of work experience. The “social mobility” component to this is that I am now prepared to take out a loan for this – as it happens, I believe that chambers should not have to pay their interns to offer them at all. I am far too old for most solicitor vac schemes. I am now thankfully doing pro bono work at a London law centre in employment and discrimination law, and it’s great as I really want to do it as I am myself disabled, but some firms apparently wish to see ‘corporate work-experience’. This is particularly pertinent in the “Why does the culture of our firm suit you?” question. Perhaps, it’s hard to justify applying to Gordon Ramsay when all you have worked for is Burger King.
I happen to think that any education is worthwhile, as you never know when you’ll need to use it. A Professor in Law at the University of London once told me this. I am currently doing a MBA, and when I told a Legal Graduate Recruitment Advisor that I am not trying really hard to get a distinction in it but that I was doing it because I really loved how businesses operate, she sounded much less than pleased. So should it matter if you come from a ‘non-legal route’ or ‘legal route’? I argue that it shouldn’t, in the face of all those law firms who have ignored my undergraduate and doctoral studies. Should it matter I’m not a great linguist? I am learning five languages, albeit at basic level. And so we could go on.
This all is leading to my conclusion that Law Schools need to take ‘expectation management’ more seriously than they ever used to. BPP Law School prides itself as being one of the leading providers of vocational education. The School is now able to award degrees following approval from the Privy Council. The Bar Standards Board has required BPP to appoint an independent statistician to review all available admissions data for the previous 5 years and clarify that in his/her professional opinion the number of offers that BPP wishes to make should not lead to over-recruitment.
However, critically, I do not believe that BPP is unilaterally responsible for this overload in the job market.
So, finally, I should like to thank Baroness Deech enormously for making me think about such issues. These are matters which, in my world, the corporates, the law and business schools, and the students must face together in the new challenging world of legal services.
Dr Shibley Rahman