Worth of law diploma questioned

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Photo: University of Glasgow

Photo: University of Glasgow

Ross Mathers

Law graduates in Scotland are to face tough times as government figures reveal an estimated 75% will not find employment as solicitors.

As one of the areas worst hit by the recession, the job market for solicitors has been significantly affected. Minutes from a meeting between representatives of the Law Society of Scotland and MSPs reveal the bleak outlook.

They also disclose Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s opinion that Scottish universities must do more to provide students with assistance.

The minutes state: “[MacAskill] was unimpressed by the attitude of those involved with the training of new solicitors and felt that education was currently driven by the needs of the universities rather than the needs of the students. The main problem lay with careers advice.”

Students have expressed anger at having to pay £5,250 to study for the Diploma in Legal Practice, with less chance of securing a job at the end than ever before.

Sheelagh MacGregor, a University of Glasgow Law graduate who is embarking on the one year diploma, explained the situation. She said: “The diploma is expensive and it has no use beyond preparing you for your traineeship. I would say over half of the people in my diploma classes don’t have jobs lined up yet — it’s an expensive risk to take.”

Once students have finished their diploma, a traineeship must also be completed, but the number of traineeships being offered by Scottish law firms has plummeted, while those on the costly diploma programme have remained largely unchanged.

Lucy McRoberts, who graduated from the University of Glasgow last year, said the current crisis forced her to abandon any hopes of a career in law.

She explained: “I had fully intended to do the diploma, but by the end of the summer, I was just a bit doubtful because of so many stories from people I know that have had traineeships and halfway through have been let go.”

Collette Paterson, Deputy Director of Education and Training Policy at the Law Society of Scotland, stressed the responsibility universities have to properly advise students.

She said: “Universities will take individual decisions on how many students they accept on courses. We do regularly talk to universities so that we are giving consistent advice.”

Despite this, she argued that the Society was committed to helping graduates.

“Whilst the LLB is not a vocational course, the Diploma course is and our responsibility to applicants to the Diploma is something we take seriously.

“We continue to give information to students throughout their studies and support those who do go onto careers as solicitors, in particular during the downturn.”

The 2008/2009 diploma session offered 774 places on the programme — a larger number than the average intake in the last three years. In the period 2005 to 2008, 89% of the 1960 diploma graduates received traineeships. With a greater intake already and a decrease in traineeships being offered, the number of unemployed graduates is set to be significant.

In response, some students have called for a greater focus on alternative careers advice. Tom Simmons, who has secured both a place at the Glasgow Graduate School of Law and a traineeship, said: “The university should have perhaps suggested alternative careers that graduates can do with a law degree. Perhaps the university should have also suggested alternative master degree courses.”

Professor Rosa Greaves, Head of the School of Law at the University of Glasgow, explained the situation: “The School of Law is very aware of the current employment situation for all students, not simply its own graduates. It is committed to doing all it can to help its graduates secure satisfying and stimulating employment.

“The School’s LLB degrees provide students with an excellent education equipping them to pursue more than a career as a solicitor or advocate, should they choose to.”

In response to the current crisis, the Law Society of Scotland has announced it will consider extending the current two and a half year shelf-life of the diploma. However, students have expressed their concerns as to the effect this would have.

Lucy McRoberts said: “They’re going to be doing that to everyone so you’re going to have even more people competing for jobs. There’s just going to be a big backlog of people.”

A recent meeting held by the Diploma Coordinating Committee had the issue of diploma numbers as their top priority.