Today’s students want job satisfaction and they are prepared to work long and hard to get it, as our survey into student attitudes shows.
In 2004 Lawyer 2B ran a wide-ranging survey into the expectations and profile of wannabe lawyers. We sent out paper questionnaires with the magazine and students posted them back to us… it was a whole different world.
We thought it was about time we did it again, so earlier this year we asked your opinions on a variety of topics. The response was incredible – more than 1,500 students filled in our online survey. Thanks to all of you for sparing the time to provide your answers and for giving feedback on how we can do it better next time.
Here are a few of the headline results from the survey.
If you plan a career in law, which route do you wish to take?
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of respondents wish to pursue a career as a solicitor, with 15 per cent wanting to become a barrister instead. Despite the well-publicised challenges faced by the bar this is roughly the same proportion as in our last survey 11 years ago.
So what about legal executives?
Back in 2004 our survey showed that only 1.8 per cent of students wanted to go down the legal exec route.
“It’s an indication that the Institute of Legal Executives have their work cut out to persuade students they offer viable career options,” we wrote at the time. But since then there have been a lot of changes: legal executives received ‘chartered’ status in 2012, can now become partners in law firms and even judges, and have embarked on a big publicity drive to drum up interest in the past five years or so.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem to have captured students’ imaginations. The proportion of respondents intending to become legal execs has ticked up from 1.8 per cent in 2004 to… 1.9 per cent in 2015 (see below).
Career progression and work-life balance
‘Generation Y’, as they have been patronisingly labelled by Generation X, are apparently a lazy, feckless bunch, more interested in work-life balance than working hard.
In fact, ‘quality and challenge of work’ is the number one priority for students in terms of their career, with work-life balance beaten into second place.
It goes a long way to explaining why more than a third of respondents would prefer to qualify at a large City firm – a 7 per cent jump from 2004 (see figure 2).
Smaller City firms have declined in popularity slightly, and there is a big loss of interest in regional and national firms as a preferred place to qualify. One in 10 students, however, are still undecided about where they would like to go.
Meanwhile, students in 2015 also expect to work harder than the class of 2004 (see below). Back then 9 per cent thought they would be working more than 55 hours per week as a trainee. That number has nearly doubled to more than 16 per cent. Some 21 per cent of students expect to work more than one weekend a month as a trainee, up from 16 per cent in 2004.
And despite all the talk of Generation Y wanting “different things” from their careers, 42 per cent said they hoped to work their way up the legal career ladder and become a partner one day. A further 21 per cent said they’d like to go in-house, while some 20 per cent have not considered their longer term career.
Our questions on diversity revealed differing trends. In 2004 60 per cent of students thought that opportunities were more limited for ethnic minorities. Exactly the same percentage thought opportunities were also more limited for female barristers. You would hope that in the 11 years since, some progress might have been made.
Law students believe it has. Now, only 54 per cent think female barristers are at a disadvantage. The figure is even better for ethnic minorities: 45 per cent think this group’s opportunities in law are more limited. There’s still work to be done, but this is encouraging.
The picture looks slightly different for female solicitors, however. In 2004 37 per cent of students thought opportunities were more limited for female solicitors. That percentage has actually gone up slightly.
Which firm has the best recruitment website?
Four magic circle firms topped the rankings – possibly because they are familiar names and more students look at their websites, possibly because they’ve got more money to spend on making them look nice (see box, below). Clifford Chance was the runaway winner.
“It’s engaging, clear, informative and aesthetically pleasing,” said one student, summing up the majority opinion. Second-place Linklaters won praise for “not just selling the firm – it has fantastic resources for anyone interested in law.”
Of the non-magic circle firms Bird & Bird came out best. Students liked its “emphasis on culture,” with one adding: “It’s targeted appropriately and gives a real sense of what the firm is about.”
At the other end of the spectrum American firms, especially those with small London offices, were criticised for not putting enough effort in. “Several provide next to no information about career paths in the UK,” said one student, a theme reiterated by many sources.
Sponsor’s comment: Lorraine Petheram, head of careers and pro bono, Kaplan Law School
Reading the Student Attitude Survey I am not surprised to find the number one destination for ‘aspiring lawyers’ is large City firms. After all, the London commercial property market is showing signs of returning to pre-recession growth.
A report released in April 2015 by New London Architecture and property consultant GL Hearn revealed that a total of 263 skyscrapers are either being built or are going through the planning system – 11 per cent more than 2014 – while the Financial Times describes the London legal market as “the lawyer of the world”.
With increased growth there has also been a marked rise in the number of US firms such as Cooley entering the legal market. Therefore, this is an opportune time for aspiring lawyers keen to receive great quality and challenging work.
However, high quality work is not confined to London! I was concerned to see the sharp fall in regional and national firms as a preferred place to qualify, especially when you consider the growth and investment in cities such as Manchester and Cambridge. As an aspiring lawyer looking for great quality work, do not dismiss regional firms without conducting thorough research. Often, these firms’ client portfolios include national and international clients that City firms would snap up in a heartbeat given half the chance.
It’s really positive to see the role of the in-house lawyer continuing to gain momentum, with organisations such as the BBC and Royal Mail, launching and relaunching their training contract programmes. This trend I expect to continue as general counsel attempt to limit legal expenditure and reduce outsourcing.
Finally, gender and diversity in the legal profession is a topic which continues to dominate. The stats are rather alarming considering that 11 years have passed and in this time firms have introduced various strategies to improve gender diversity. For example, Herbert Smith Freehills has set a target of 30 per cent female partnership in 2019 while Addleshaw Goddard came second in the Top 50 Employers for Women in 2014 for its female-specific development programme. There is clearly some work to be done. Hopefully, by the next survey, students will report a greater sense of equality in career progression in the UK legal market.