For the 14th year, The University of Law (ULaw) has carried out research among its students on behalf of The Times newspaper for its annual Student Law supplement. Nearly 1100 students across the LLB, GDL, LPC and BPTC courses took part in the survey, which looked at students’ career aspirations, views on higher education, the legal market, Brexit, current affairs, and more.
Prospective solicitors at ULaw selected ‘intellectual challenge’ as their primary reason for wanting to join the legal profession for the third year in a row. This was followed by ‘an interest in law’, ‘interesting and varied work’ and ‘earning potential’. Prospective barristers selected ‘wanting to help people’ as their primary reason for joining the profession - up three places from 2016.
Aspiring solicitors said that a large commercial firm is where they would be most likely to work. When asked about the type of organisation they would least like to work for, ‘Business/Industry non-legal’ were least popular with both aspiring solicitors and barristers for the second year running. In line with results from the last two years, solicitors were most likely to want to work in the area of company/commercial law (28%) whilst barristers continued to be most interested in criminal law (34%). Other areas of interest to solicitors were family law (12%) and crime (8%) while barristers’ interests lay in human rights (16%) and family (9%).
Post-Brexit, students remain positive about their international career prospects. Respondents’ views on where they are most likely to work have not been influenced by Brexit, with nearly 80% saying it made no difference. Nearly 60% said they did not believe that Brexit would affect their chances of a successful international career.
But the number of students who think they will practise abroad at some point has seen noticeable decreases from 2016 to less than 30% of students surveyed. Other key findings from the survey were:
Qualities of a lawyer
The most important qualities that a lawyer should have continued to be ‘integrity’ (unprompted response from 16% of respondents), followed by ‘honesty’ (7%) and ‘communication skills’ (6%). ‘Resilience’ and ‘lateral skills’ were two attributes that appeared for the first time in 2017.
Deciding on a legal career
Sixty-five per cent of respondents decided that they wanted to be in the legal sector before they went to university – up five points from 2016. There has been a 10 point percentage increase in the number of students who decided on their legal career between the ages of 14-18.
Only 15% decided on a legal career while at university (down five points from last year). A university’s careers centre continues to be where students most often go for advice (stable at 80%), while 43% would go to parents and 26% to a friend.
Work experience in the legal profession and CV enhancement
Seventy per cent of students surveyed had already secured work experience in a firm or chambers before they started at ULaw - up eight points from 2016.
Continuing the trend from last year, over three quarters of students had undertaken volunteer or charity work to enhance their CV and experience.
Only 50% of respondents thought that a prospective employer should be able to check their online profiles when applying for a job, a significant change to 2016 (73% in 2016).
Career in the legal profession
There is an even split between those who think that going into the legal profession will help them have a good work-life balance and those who do not. The number of those who agree with this statement has decreased ten percentage points from 2016.
Prospective barristers are more positive about their work-life balance, but the gap has narrowed since 2016.
Finding a training contract/pupillage (mentioned by 34% of respondents), competition in the industry (15%) and managing to start a family (9%) are the top concerns as they embark on a legal career. More than half of respondents had not applied for training contracts or pupillages yet, and 25% had applied for up to five. Surprisingly, nearly 8% said they were not intending on applying for training contracts or pupillages.
Access to the legal profession
More than in previous years, respondents thought diversity and widening participation schemes are opening access to the legal profession.
Comments indicated that respondents thought barriers for women not reaching partnership status are related to deciding between a career and starting a family.
There was a 7% increase in those who thought that being from a minority background was a barrier to reaching partnership status. It was an even split between those who agree and those who do not.
Those who did agree said that access to the profession still serves as an initial barrier and the historic attitudes/demographics of City law firms further contributes.
Sixty per cent of students surveyed thought having a disability was a barrier to becoming a partner – an increase from 2016. Comments were similar to 2016, indicating that respondents did not think that firms/chambers would be willing to provide extra support for those who have physical or mental disabilities.
View of the profession
Seventy per cent of those surveyed think that life as a corporate lawyer is too stressful, a 10% increase year-on-year. Of those who answered yes, 55% say this perception is discouraging them from a corporate career.
Sixty eight per cent thought life as a legal aid lawyer had become too stressful, and 54% of these respondents said that this perception would discourage them from being a legal aid lawyer.
Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE)
Nearly 80% of respondents were aware of the SQE, but only 14% viewed it as a positive development for the legal profession. However, 22% agreed that the SQE will be a consistent measure of the competency of students entering the profession, whereas 30% disagree.
Tuition fees and finances
Sixty three per cent of LLB students surveyed were living at home during their studies – stable on 2016.
Eighty per cent of LLB respondents said they were funding their undergraduate degree through a student loan – a 10 point increase from 2016. Of postgraduate students, nearly 30% were funding their studies through a loan, and nearly 10% through working.
More than half of respondents expect to earn between £25-45K as a newly qualified solicitor or barrister. The largest proportion (35%) thought that £32-35K is the average amount.
Current affairs and Brexit
Only 14% were confident that the UK will secure the key points in its negotiations. When asked what the most important points were for the government to secure in the upcoming EU negotiations, remaining part of the single market was top at 66% - up 30 points from 2016. The relationship between EU and UK law was second (64%) and freedom of movement third (58%).
Fifty-seven per cent of respondents believed that the UK leaving the EU will not strictly lead to London losing its status as a key financial and legal centre, but will result in a reduction in status. But half of respondents believe that Brexit will result in UK-based firms having less work in the future. Sixteen per cent believe it will have a positive impact and that firms will have more work.
The digital age
Thirty-seven per cent of those surveyed said they were comfortable with apps, organisations and individuals having access to their information. This continues to be quite a divisive issue, as a little over 40% said they were not comfortable with granting this access.
Facebook (43%) and Instagram (26%) are the most used social media platforms, Instagram has seen a 10 point increase from 2016. While relatively low in terms of overall usage, Snapchat and YouTube have seen slight increases as well. When asked which social media platform the legal profession should embrace, Twitter and LinkedIn were the top choices.
Opinions and topical issues
Housing Ladder: Of students surveyed, only 10% expected to get on the housing ladder in the next two years. Although 25% said it would be possible within the next 10 years, more than 17% said it seemed an impossible prospect.
Controversial Figures: 42% of respondents support moves to remove controversial statues such as Cecil Rhodes’.
Tweeting in court: Only 55% said that tweeting should be banned during court proceedings, compared to 70% in 2016.
Top three most admired international leaders: 56% said that Justin Trudeau was the most admired international leader, followed by Angela Merkel (54%) and Emmanuel Macron (33%).
Most admired UK politician: Jeremy Corbyn was the most admired (29%), followed by Sadiq Khan (27%), and Theresa May (10%)
Legal Fiction and Non Fiction
For the second year in a row the fictional law character that students most aspire to be is Harvey Spectre from Suits, followed by Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird and Elle Woods from Legally Blonde.
Nearly 50% of respondents said that Suits was their favourite legal drama, followed by Silk and The Good Wife.
More than 30% chose Baroness Hale as the legal professional they admired the most, followed distantly by Lord Denning and then Amal Clooney. Students have enjoyed a wide range of books and films over the last 12 months. The top books read this year were ‘A Game of Thrones’, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘The Girl on a Train’ and ‘1984’.
Professor Andrea Nollent, Vice-Chancellor and CEO of ULaw, commenting on the results, said:
"The results from this wide-ranging survey present a fascinating insight into why students have decided to study law and their aspirations on qualifying as a solicitor or barrister.
“Encouragingly, there has been an increase in prospective solicitors and barristers joining the profession because they ‘want to help people’, but overall an intellectual challenge remains the prime reason for aspiring solicitors.
“For the third year in a row the top work destination for aspiring solicitors is large commercial firms and the practice area they most want to work in is company and commercial law (28%), followed by family law and crime. Students who aspire to be barristers are more likely to be interested in the area of crime (34%) followed by human rights and family law.
“Seventy per cent of students surveyed have already secured work experience in the legal sector before starting at The University of Law. This highlights why employability, and finding a training contract in particular, drives our strategy here at the University. Our commitment to employability is further reflected in the fact that 96% of our successful LPC graduates from 2016 were employed within nine months of graduating.”
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