The Times Survey: Law students favour smaller, regional firms for the first time, while interest in human rights and family law increases 

For the 15th year, The University of Law has teamed up with The Times, to discover exactly what its students think of their chosen careers, the legal market and current affairs.

18 October 2018

Knowing how students feel about their chosen career path not only helps provide the support they need, but also gives valuable insight into the future of the industry. That is why The University of Law (ULaw) and The Times have once again partnered to gather the attitudes and opinions of ULaw students, to reveal trends and predictions in the industry. 

Work aspirations

When it comes to the types of firms students are leaning towards, it seems aspiring solicitors are looking for a change, as a greater percentage favoured regional or medium sized firms as their top choice (76%) over large commercial firms (56%), for the first time since the study launched 15 years ago. Aspiring barristers also revealed a change in inclination with 70% choosing regional chambers as their first choice, and 59% opting for larger chambers. 

In terms of the area of law they would like to cover, trainee barristers continue to favour crime (34%), but show a growing interest in human rights (20%) as well as family law (11%) which has risen 2% since last year’s figures. Similarly, students working towards solicitor status still favour company/commercial law (28%) but also show interest in family law (12%) and human rights (7%).

On the other end of the spectrum, the area of law least likely to be explored by aspiring solicitors is business/industry non-legal (51%), while nearly two fifths (38%) of trainee barristers are most likely to avoid non-profit organisations.

The top three reasons for aspiring solicitors to choose a career in law are:
  1. An interest in law (74%)
  2. Finding it an intellectual challenge (69%)
  3. It’s interesting and varied work (66%)
The top three reasons for trainee barristers to choose a career in law are:
  1. An interest in law (74%)
  2. Finding it an intellectual challenge (72%)
  3. It is interesting and varied work (70%)

When it comes to when students decided to pursue a career in law, 60% actively chose this career path before starting university and allowed it to inform their course selection, while nearly one in five (18%) did not make the decision until in the swing of higher education, and have since gone on to do a conversion or postgraduate qualification in this field.

The research also looked into students’ current work experience and revealed over two thirds (67%) have already secured work experience in a firm or chambers, matching 2017 figures. Of those, two in five (40%) found it difficult to obtain experience, but this saw a five percent drop versus last year, suggesting an increased commitment from firms and chambers to invest in the future of the industry.

Work/life balance

While getting a good work/life balance might be a commonly considered challenge when working in the legal sector, those training to be a barrister feel slightly more positive about it (59%), than those training to be a solicitor (49%).

However, students think stress is still an issue in both corporate law (68%) and legal aid law (68%). In fact, over half (52%) admit concern about high stress levels discourages them from entering the profession, while 54% of those who say this about legal aid law think this will impact their decision to get a job in this field.

When it comes to job opportunities, students have a positive outlook with over two thirds (68%) saying they are confident they will get a job in their aspired field. Other popular alternative career paths include the civil service/local or central government (39%), and finance and banking (29%).

Education processes and funding

With cost being a common issue amongst students, the survey investigated how they are funding their time at university. For three in five (60%) LLB students, living at home was a way to help save money, but over two thirds (68%) still require a student loan. Nearly one in ten (9%) admit to receiving help from the bank of mum and dad, and 4% are undertaking paid work for additional income. 

This year’s results also show a significant increase in undergraduates receiving employee sponsorship (8%) compared to 2017 (1%); again pointing towards the encouraging trend of firms investing in more trainees.

When asked about the new upcoming SQE plans, over half (56%) say they had heard about them, but were unsure how it would affect them, while nearly a third (31%) felt confident in their knowledge of the details released so far.

Topical issues and current affairs

The next part of the survey revealed exactly how students feel about current affairs and topical issues, including how Brexit will impact their careers.

Overall, Brexit does not appear to have dampened students’ confidence in the international market, with nearly two thirds (60%) saying they do not believe Brexit will affect their chance to work abroad, and three quarters (75%) saying the change will not impact the kind of firm or chambers they would like to work in. 

Only 23% say they are comfortable with apps, organisations and individuals having access to their information – a 16% drop from last year. This drop could be due in part to several high-profile data breaches in the past year, particularly as the survey data revealed Facebook has seen a 19% decrease in the number of students using it. Despite this, nearly two thirds (60%) believe that a prospective employer has the right to check online profiles of candidates when applying for a job. 

When asked about getting on the housing ladder, only 16% say they expect to own a home in the next two years, a quarter (25%) expect it will take them up to ten years, but nearly one in five (17%) believe it is an impossible prospect. 

The most admired UK politicians amongst the students include ULaw alumnus Sadiq Khan (25%), Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (20%) and Conservative leader Theresa May (13%).

Most admired legal professionals

This year’s study revealed encouraging results when it comes to the legal professionals students admire most, with the top two spots being awarded to women. 

The three most admired legal professionals in 2018 are:
  1. Lady Hale (18%)
  2. Amal Clooney (6%)
  3. Lord Denning (3%)

Andrea Nollent, Vice Chancellor and CEO at The University of Law, commented: “This research conducted in partnership with The Times is of huge value to The University of Law, as it allows us to gain real insight into how our students are thinking, and what their aspirations are for the future. We pride ourselves on providing the best support to students at The University of Law and we use this data to do exactly that.

“Given the current climate, it is encouraging to see that for the majority of students, Brexit uncertainties do not seem to be discouraging them from pursuing international study and employment – which is something we often support students with here. 

“For our industry, what is perhaps most interesting is that for the first time since launching this survey with The Times 15 years ago, students are beginning to favour career opportunities at small to medium sized firms over larger ones. This, combined with the increase in students who have received sponsorship from an employer, suggests an encouraging trend of businesses and firms across the spectrum investing in the future of legal talent.”

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