Well balanced

Many people think there is only one hard-and-fast route to a career in law. But it simply isn’t so. Corinne McPartland talks to a group of would-be lawyers who took the bold decision to combine their careers with part-time study

“You can get it if you really want, but you must try, try and try, try and try you’ll succeed at last.” Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s lyrics flood The Law Society’s historic hall.

No, the society’s members have not turned into a bunch of Rastafarians, swapping their wigs for dreadlocks and beanie hats. Fun as that would be, the familiar song is part of a presentation about alternative routes into law.

In recent months Lawyer2B.com has been reporting on the growing trend among LPC providers to start offering part-time options for aspiring solicitors. The University of Sheffield and the City Law School in London will be the latest law schools to start providing the part-time qualification in 2009, subject to approval by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Andrew Callaghan, LPC director at Sheffield, says he expects the part-time course to be extremely popular with students who need to work to fund their studies themselves.

Theres an emerging market of students wholl be finishing their law degrees and want to do the LPC, but are worried about cost when they already have the heavy burden of debt. This way they can work alongside doing the LPC.

In light of the credit crunch, students who do not have the Bank of Mum and Dad to help them on their way, a part-time course may look like their only option. And instead of using their time to earn money slaving as shop assistants in random coffee shops, many students are turning to paralegal work in a bid to gain experience while they study.

Grey area

Lorraine Buckberry, who used to be a lecturer in biotechnology, is studying her LPC part-time at Nottingham Law School and working at law firm French & Co.

The mother-of two says she worked as a lecturer at Nottingham Trent University when she was doing her Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to support her studies, and now that she is doing her LPC, she is doing paralegal work to gain on-the-job experience.

The knowledge Im gaining by working in a firm alongside study is great and I think it shows a great deal of dedication because not many people can do a days work and then go home and study, she argues.

Bristol Institute of Legal Practice student Charlotte Brannigan is studying her LPC part-time while doing her training contract part-time at Foot Anstey in Truro, Cornwall.

I love the fact that I can be studying something in class and then be applying it the next day at work, she says. It makes the things you are studying really very real.

Is it possible to do the LPC and a training contract at the same time?

The simple answer is yes. You can start a part-time LPC and part-time training contract simultaneously. You combine the two for two years, then once you have completed the LPC you have to do a further year as a trainee solicitor. For the sake of completeness, it is also possible to do a training contract part-time over four years. But this is all about to change.

From September 2009 it will also be possible for students to complete the LPC in two parts and have a break in between the stages. Stage one will cover the core practice areas, skills, and professional responsibilities and conduct.

During the second stage students will need to complete three vocational electives. Students might wish to take stage two once they have started their training contract. This will enable them to spread the costs of the course, undertake electives that are directly relevant to the type of practice in which they are working, co-ordinate the study of their electives so that their study and their work experience complement each other, and take their electives with different providers, giving them a greater choice of practice areas to study.

Some trainees who start a training contract after stage one of the LPC will study for their electives entirely in their own time (evenings, weekends and/or by distance learning). Other trainees will be given time off by their employers to study. The proposal is therefore that trainees who enter into a training contract after they have passed stage one must have three weeks added on to the 24 months (or the full-time equivalent) they would otherwise spend in a training contract for each of the electives that they had not completed before they started their training contract. Some trainees might, in fact, study for their electives over a longer period than three weeks.

The rules surrounding part-time study training contracts are very complicated, so we recommend that you check with any potential employers that this is something they would permit

Part-time training contract?! we hear you exclaim. Well, after talking with a few students who say they are doing part-time training contracts, we thought we would try to shed some light on this grey area. Indeed, with all the changes due to take place to the LPC next year and the ongoing pilot on work-based learning, the picture is pretty complicated. While it is not yet common practice to do your training contract alongside your LPC, it is currently possible depending on your circumstances. At the moment you can do a part-time-study training contract, which is completed at the same time as a part-time LPC over two years. After the initial two years, and once you complete the LPC, you will be required to do a further year as a trainee solicitor (see below).

However, not everyone we spoke to is working in a law-related role to support their legal studies. Qualified doctor Mark Davidson works for a pharmaceutical company developing medicines for rare genetically inherited diseases. Not only does he have a fascinating job, he lives and works in Amsterdam and travels the 256 miles to Nottingham Law School every month to study his LPC.

Im not the only one travelling long distances to study, says Davidson. I have someone who travels from Africa and another person who comes from the Middle East to study part-time in my class.

The 38-year-olds work involves performing medical trials and developing medicines to help treat Pompe disease a deadly muscle disorder that occurs mostly in babies and children. But Davidson really started to become interested in law when he began volunteering for Amnesty International.

Ive always been interested in the subject of human rights and I applied for a post at Amnesty and I got it, he says. I help local groups draft letters and create petitions demonstrating against things such as executions on death row.

Davidson believes recruiters should view people who manage to hold down a job and study law at the same time as being really dedicated to a career in the legal profession.
Earn as you learn

Simon Cockshutt, graduate recruitment partner at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, seconds Davidsons view, saying: Its quite an unusual route to take but I think studying alongside a full-time career shows tremendous drive and determination to pursue a career in law that some other candidates lack.

Cockshutt is speaking from experience he has just offered a training contract to RAF gunner William George. George studied part-time while working in the armed forces and even managed to meet essay deadlines while on deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 30-year-old says: I remember sitting in 50-degree heat trying to study for my finals and then having to stay awake all night reading by torchlight to get my work in on time. But in a weird way, when you were out in those war-torn countries, sitting down and getting engrossed in your law books was a sort of escapism from what youd been doing on patrol that day.

He says his funniest memory is of doing a satellite call from Iraq with his tutors from Southampton Solent University in place of an oral examination.
The RAF were going to fly me back for the exam but Solent let me do it by a satellite telephone conference, remembers George. It was weird doing a viva about human rights while in Iraq.

George is not the only one combining brawn with brain. College of Law student Louise Taylor studied her part-time LPC, which she completed last year, alongside a career in the Territorial Army. It was a nice relief to do something active rather than sitting at your desk all day studying, she says.

We got to do some amazing things, such as hiking along the Grand Canyon, and once even got trained in how to set up a makeshift medical centre in the event of us having to actually go to war.

Taylor says the financial strain was not as hard to bear as it would have been had her only option been to study full-time and give up work.
Earning as I was learning was a massive help and I dont think I could have done it without that option, she admits.

The extra dimension of having a career while studying, however unrelated to law it may be, can only stand you in good stead with potential employers. But if you do want to study part-time, you have to apply directly to the provider, not the Central Applications Board as you do with the full-time course.

Linklaters head of recruitment Claire Cherrington even thinks people who have had a previous career before starting their training contract may begin to earn their money back for the firm slightly quicker than those who come straight out of school.

We generally take on people who are about to do their LPC and who come to us to start their training contracts afterwards. But thats not to say that we wouldnt look at someone doing their part-time LPC already, says Cherrington. We have a guy who was a policeman and then did his study part-time. It shows a real commitment and the ability to multi-task, as well as good time-management skills. Its certainly not a negative thing because more life experience can only be of benefit to a firm.

So even though the LPC is expensive, there are ways to study for it without giving up the financial security of a job if you are willing to put in the time and effort.

A full list of part-time LPC courses can be found in the Lawyer2B.com law school directory

Psst! A private detectives route into the legal profession

Keith Holland has certainly managed to juggle a slightly unusual job alongside studying full-time for his Common Professional Examination (CPE).
He is studying his CPE, which is similar to the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), at London Metropolitan University, but works as a private detective to support his studies.

The 30-year-old says that although he does not go around in a Dick Tracy-style hat and overcoat peering at people from behind a newspaper, his job can be very exciting at times.

You have to be very clever about how you follow someone. Surveillance is really an art form and there are different techniques that you can use to do it, Holland explains.

The wannabe lawyer tracks people for insurance companies who think their clients are committing fraud. He says the job usually involves patiently monitoring peoples day-to-day movements, which can become quite boring.

But Holland admits he has had his fair share of hairy moments.

Once, I was following this guy who was known to be violent and a drug dealer, he recalls. I was following him in my car and he clocked me and then began to follow me instead. I wasnt worried at first but then we got stuck in a traffic jam and he got out and began to kick my door in. It was a very scary moment.