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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. 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.