• Law students have confidence in achieving their careers goals despite sluggish UK economy, survey shows

  • 12 October 2012

  • Nearly eight out of ten law students believe the UK recession will continue for at least another year yet, despite this, two thirds are confident that they will successfully gain a foothold in the legal profession after completing their studies.

    More than 60 per cent said the uncertainty in the economy had no impact on their decision to apply to law school with 14 per cent even saying that it made them more likely to study law. However 82 per cent believe that the legal profession is socially exclusive.

    The three most popular reasons for wanting to enter the legal profession were ‘interesting and varied work’, ‘an interest in the law’ and ‘intellectual challenge’.

    These were among the findings of an annual survey of its students carried out by The College of Law, the largest professional legal training organisation in Europe, in conjunction with The Times newspaper.

    The survey was sent in September to all students on the College’s Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). It also went to students on its new two-year LL.B undergraduate law degree, which launched this year. The survey asked for their views on career aspirations, student debt, higher education changes and tuition fees, changes to the legal profession, politics and the economy.

    Of the more than 1,900 who responded 40 per cent blame the UK government for the sluggish economy (compared with 33 per cent last year) and 31 per cent blame bankers. Yet the majority see a glimmer of hope on the horizon with 70 per cent believing that in five years' time the economy will be slowly recovering.

    If there was a General Election tomorrow 32 per cent would vote Labour, 29 per cent Conservative and 6 per cent Liberal Democrat. Of the Conservative voters more than a third would prefer London Mayor Boris Johnson as party leader.

    Three quarters feel that higher tuition fees will deter the best talent from less affluent or non-traditional backgrounds from applying to university. Of the LL.B students, the first intake of undergraduates to be directly affected by higher fees, 17 per cent very nearly did not study for a degree because of the fee rises and a third had some doubts about going on to higher education. However 70 per cent of post-graduate students would still have opted to study a degree if tuition fees had been at £9,000 when they went to university.

    Post-graduate students’ average debt has risen slightly to £15,800, compared with £15,600 last year, with 41 per cent shouldering debts of more than £20,000. Undergraduates expect to have an average debt of £20,800 by the time they finish their degree. However at the same time the students’ salary expectations on qualifying have increased. Aspiring solicitors now expect to earn an average of £37,600 compared with £37,200 in 2011. Would-be barristers’ expected salary has increased slightly from £33,300 last year to £33,400.

    The students were also asked for their thoughts on the ideas being discussed by the ongoing Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) on how to open up the legal profession to a wider variety of entrants including non-graduates. Two thirds said they would still prefer to study for a degree even if students did not need to go to university to become a lawyer and could start work immediately after leaving school. Some 85 per cent of undergraduates and 54 per cent of postgraduates believe that the majority of law degrees are too academic and should include more vocational training.

    Professor Nigel Savage, Chief Executive of The College of Law, said: “I find it heartening that the students show such confidence in their future legal careers despite being realistic about the ongoing challenges faced by the UK economy. We should feel good that they want to join the legal services sector for the right reasons and I hope that our leaders shaping policy in the higher education and legal education sectors will listen to what they are saying."

    The Times/College of Law Student Survey 2012 – Key findings


    • 41% of post-graduate students have more than £20,000 of study debt - an increase on last year’s figure (37% in 2011, 35% in 2010, 27% in 2009).
    • The average study debt for post-graduates has risen over the past four years - £15,800 this year compared with £15,600 in 2011, £14,800 in 2010 and £14,200 in 2009
    • LL.B students expect to have an average debt of £20,800 when they have finished their degree and an average debt of £25,200 before they start their training contract/pupillage. In contrast GDL, LPC and BPTC students expect an average debt of £18,500 when starting work.
    • Expected earnings when qualifying have increased slightly. Aspiring solicitors expect to earn an average of £37,600 compared with £37,200 last year. Would-be barristers expect to earn £33,400 compared with £33,300 last year.
    • The three most popular reasons for wanting to enter the legal profession were ‘interesting and varied work’ (cited by 76% of aspiring solicitors and 83% of aspiring barristers); ‘an interest in law’ (73% solicitors, 78% barristers); ‘intellectual challenge’ (76% solicitors, 79% barristers).
    • 62% of aspiring barristers cite ‘wanting to help people’ as one of the main reasons for entering the legal profession compared with 48% of aspiring solicitors. Aspiring barristers seem far less interested in earning potential than prospective solicitors. 48% of aspiring barristers cite this as one of the main reasons for entering the legal profession compared with 64% of aspiring solicitors.
    • 66% of aspiring solicitors and 62% of aspiring barristers say they are confident they will be able to enter their chosen career after finishing their studies. 77% of LPC students have started applying for law firm training contracts, much more than the 54% of BPTC students that have started applying for pupillages.
    • 61% said the uncertainty in the economy had no impact on their decision to apply to law school and 14% said it made them more likely to study law
    • 82% think the legal profession is somewhat or very socially exclusive.
    • 63% agreed that the introduction of Alternative Business Structures (ABS) would provide a wider range of employment opportunities for lawyers (compared with 54% last year). However 56% thought that the introduction would reduce legal salaries as law firms compete with other providers (52% last year) and 51% felt that it would reduce the status of lawyers by offering less skilled jobs (47% last year). Only 47% agreed that the introduction of ABS would provide lawyers with more options for developing skills and progressing their careers (39% last year). 58% of prospective solicitors would not like to work for an ABS and just 1% would prefer to work for an ABS than a law firm.
    • 73% feel that higher tuition fees would deter the best talent from less affluent or non-traditional backgrounds from applying to university. However 70% of post-graduate students would still have gone to university if tuition fees had been at £9,000 then (compared with 65% last year). Of the LL.B students (the first intake of undergraduates to be directly affected by higher tuition fees) 17% very nearly did not study for a degree because of the higher fees and 33% had some doubts about studying for a degree.
    • 70% of students on the College’s two-year LL.B degree said the main benefit of studying a two-year degree was gaining a head start on entering the workplace over their contemporaries doing three-year degrees.
    • A-Level grades dropped this year for the first time in 20 years and GCSE grades for the first time in 25 years. 42% think this was because markers were under government pressure to mark more harshly and 29% feel that grade boundaries were deliberately manipulated to curb year on year inflation. However 18% believe that results simply reached a natural plateau
    • The ongoing Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) is exploring whether the legal profession could be opened up to a wider variety of entrants, including non-graduates, by introducing more flexible entry points to the profession. However 66% said they would still prefer to study a degree even if students did not need to go to university/college to become a lawyer and could start work immediately post-school. 85% of undergraduate students and 54% of postgraduate students believe that the majority of law degrees are too academic and should include more vocational training.
    • If there was a General Election tomorrow 32% would vote Labour, 29% Conservative and 6% Liberal Democrat. Of the Conservative voters 38% would prefer London mayor Boris Johnson as party leader.
    • 89% think that Barack Obama will win the US Presidential Election on November 6 and 75% believe his presidential term has been successful.
    • 78% believe that the UK economy will continue in recession over the next year however 70% believe that in five years’ time the economy will be slowly recovering. 40% blame the UK government for the sluggish economy (compared with 33% last year) and 31% blame bankers.
    • 62% believe some countries will be forced to leave the Eurozone over the next five years and 58% blame the Eurozone crisis on too much borrowing in certain countries.

    The full survey results are available here and a summary of the results is available here

    Further information from: Lucy Wray, Press Officer, The College of Law on 01483 216072 (lucy.wray@lawcol.co.uk)