College of Law reports on students’ confidence and finances

A snapshot of the aspirations and finances of the College of Law’s (CoL) would-be barristers and solicitors has revealed that despite the recession 66 per cent of those studying to be solicitors and 62 per cent of aspiring barristers are confident of entering their chosen careers.

The survey by the CoL of 1,956 students, also demonstrates a gap between the two groups’ preparation for their chosen career, with 77% of Legal Practice Course (LPC) students stating that they have applied for training contracts while just 54% of Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students applying for pupillages.

Aspiring solicitors are also more motivated by financial reward than those aiming to be barristers with 64 per cent and 48 per cent respectively listing it as a principal attraction of the legal profession. On entering their profession, prospective barristers expect to earn £33,400 while those wanting to become solicitors believe their salaries will be £37,600.

Across the two careers, the most popular reasons for wanting to practise law were interesting and varied work; an interest in law and intellectual challenge. Wanting to help people motivated 62 per cent of would-be barristers but just 48 per cent of prospective solicitors.

The postgraduate debts of those aiming to enter the professions averages £15,800, though 41 per cent of those surveyed had debts of more than £20,000. GDL, BPTC and LPC students expect to have overall average debts of £18,500. This relatively low amount – when taking into account living expenses and tuition fees at both undergraduate and postgraduate level – can be explained by the 21 per cent of GDL, LPC and BPTC students who have no debt whatsoever.

The financial backgrounds of those undertaking professional exams at the CoL vary with 31 per cent funded by their parents, 22 per cent sponsored by employers and 24 per cent funded via loans or savings.

LL.B students estimate they will be £20,800 in the red on completion of their degree and will rack up another £4,400 before beginning a training contract and pupillage. Of the first cohort of LL.B students to be hit by £9,000 fees, 17 per cent almost decided against undertaking a degree while 33 per cent had some doubts.

The perceived exclusivity of the legal profession – 82 per cent of students rate it as somewhat or very exclusive – appears to stem from the cost associated with rather than an inherent elitist attitude held by the profession. Comments from students included: “it still appears to be a profession based on who you know, and not on merit eg the emphasis on unpaid work experience” and “the cost of studying/competition for training contracts makes it very socially exclusive”.

Other comments revealed that students believed that the profession was trying to be more inclusive: “it’s perceived as socially exclusive because it’s difficult to get into but it’s difficult to get into because it demands a great deal of time and effort. Every major law firm / set is aiming at greater and greater diversity”.

The survey findings follow news that CMS has awarded its first social mobility bursaries. (2 October 2012)