I was reading the latest issue of The Firm Magazine (August/ September 2010) this morning before lunch and couldn’t help thinking about the huge problems facing those of us in our Undergraduate years when we eventually try to enter the profession. The situation with traineeships is all the more problematic for those beginning their Diploma in Legal Practice this month. At my stage in the LLB it is probably too early to begin thinking about traineeships in specific terms, but it’s never too early to be thinking about them more generally.
The Diploma is not cheap, with fees of around £5000 for a course lasting around 6 months and then books and materials on top of this it is a large outlay for anyone, not least someone who has just completed four years of undergraduate level study (or maybe even 6 for those who qualify in another discipline and then study on the accelerated LLB programme). Most, if not all, would not grudge paying this as the return on that investment in theory is quite lucrative: a career in the Scottish legal profession. However, this is not the case for everyone.
The figures provided by Neil Campbell in his article in the latest edition of The Firm are quite frankly worrying. It is clear that we are unlikely to be in a position where we need 900 new lawyers in Scotland. The numbers gaining traineeships every year appears to be around the 450 – 475 mark. This leaves a significant number of people who have went through the expense and hard study of the Diploma without a job at the end of it.
It would make much more sense to limit the number of diplomas available to a figure that is more representative of the numbers who are likely to be successful in gaining a traineeship. The problem, I think, does not lie with the number of providers of the Diploma, but rather in the number of places available. 6 providers are offering 900 places per year, giving an average cohort of 150 per provider. Having a range of providers of the Diploma is, in my view, a good thing. Students are told right at the very start of their LLB (or certainly in my experience at two separate institutions) that gaining an LLB is no guarantee of a place on a Diploma course, and subsequently, the successful completion of the Diploma does not guarantee a traineeship. However, the true scale of the problem is not made known to students early enough.
Students need this information so that they fully aware of just what they are letting themselves in for. With almost double the number of Diploma students than traineeships available, it is imperative that from day one of the LLB students are taking part in activities that strengthen their CV and will set them apart from everyone else. Good academic grades are simply not enough for students to progress forward, they are of course essential, but cannot and should not be relied upon by the student as their sole way of gaining a traineeship.
There are, of course, the traditional things seen on the CV of a Law Student: mooting, debating, summer placements and such like, but everyone is going to have these activities on their CV if they are truly focuses on entering the profession as a career. These things are not going to help you stand out against the crowd of graduates applying for that elusive traineeship. Students must look elsewhere for things that strengthen the skills and abilities required to be a successful lawyer, but at the same time are different and will make their application stand out in the pile of applications being looked at by firms. Doing this will certainly strengthen a student’s chances of obtaining a traineeship, but one problem remains to be solved: the number f Diploma places available.
There should be a cap on the number of places that can be offered by each of the accredited providers to ensure that we are not left with literally hundreds of students thousands of pounds out of pocket with little hope of securing a traineeship in the future. The exact workings of the cap are something for discussion as we must ensure that there is sufficient provision of newly qualified lawyers to ensure that the justice system continues to effectively operate.
I am sure that many people will disagree with me on this matter, and as usual I would love to hear your views either in the comments below or on E-mail.