There are a number of reasons people might train in the law. Some may not even intend to enter the legal profession upon graduating, as the law is a subject with many transferable skills which can be useful for a variety of career paths inside and outside the legal industry. However, many students choose to study law for the most obvious reason: to work in the legal sector after qualifying. There are a number of factors that attract students towards legal work, and a recent survey by the University of Law has revealed the key motivations that are driving current law students.
Perhaps encouragingly, one of the most prominent motives uncovered by the survey is a decidedly selfless one. Almost half of all prospective solicitors responding to the survey (49%) said that the main reason they were looking forward to pursuing a career in law was that they had a desire “to help people.” For those who hope to become barristers, this figure is 61%.
Law Society Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) chair Max Harris described the large number of legal students motivated by wanting to help people as an encouraging one. Harris said that “Helping people can range from helping large in-house legal teams with their corporate considerations, to helping vulnerable children or adults in family, housing or other human rights matters.”
He went on to say that the latter form of helping people is “under great threat” in light of “recent cuts to legal aid.” This, he believes, is a particularly pertinent point as a recent survey by the JLD revealed a mere 4% of junior lawyers were interested in or actively involved with legal aid work.
According to Harris: “The Society, the JLD and so many other organisations are fighting hard to ensure that a career in legal aid remains a viable option for law students.”
The survey took in the opinions of more than 1,200 new GDL, LLB, BPTC and LPC students. A number of other factors were also identified as key motivators of solicitors-to-be. These included a hope for “interesting and varied work,” an enjoyment of “intellectual challenge” and simply holding an interest in the law. Collectively, these three motives help to drive more than two thirds of current law students towards a career in the legal profession.
It also seems that many students have decided to pursue a legal career from a fairly young age. Over a quarter of them reached the decision that they would like to work in the legal sector between the ages of 16 and 18. Of course, this is not a prerequisite for a successful career and the law is also open to those who only realise their interest later.
If you are not currently studying law but considering a career in the industry, there is a strong chance you will be looking into a law degree. However, regardless of subject one of the biggest problems with taking a degree is working out where you should study.
It is possible that this question has been decided for you by circumstances. For example, if you are returning to study as a mature student based in your current home and maintaining a job in the meantime, you might have chosen a local university, or a distance learning option such as the Open University, out of necessity. However, most students approach this decision with the luxury of choice. For the subject of law specifically, these are currently some of the top-ranked universities in the UK.
University of Oxford
It is no great surprise that the list is currently headed by Oxford. The nearly 1000-year-old institution is famously a world-leader in most subjects, and this includes an exceptionally strong law school. The main catch is the fact that, due to its prestigious nature, entry to Oxford is much harder than getting into most universities. There is an extra application process specific to this university on top of the standard UCAS form, and only very high-achievers are likely to be accepted.
University of Cambridge
Equally unsurprising is the presence of Cambridge in second place. Currently, Oxford is only ranked above Cambridge by a tiny margin (in rankings that use scores out of 100, the difference tends to be measured in decimal points) and this is always subject to change. As Cambridge is similarly prestigious, the disadvantages are much the same as those which apply to Oxford. However, if you can gain access to either of the Oxbridge institutions, your standard of education and current employability will be excellent.
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
While most people who think prestigious universities think Oxbridge, LSE is often placed with those universities as the third corner of the “golden triangle.” It is somewhat more accessible than Oxford and Cambridge, though still looks for higher-achievers than the average institution. People who have graduate from any golden triangle institution have, on average, noticeably higher salaries than graduates of other institutions. One of the key disadvantages of studying anywhere in London is the cost of living, higher in the Capital than in any other part of the UK.
University of Edinburgh
By rankings alone, the University of Edinburgh comes in below University College London (UCL) and King’s College London. However, when all factors are considered, the University of Edinburgh has two key advantages. It offers lower tuition fees in many cases, and the cost of living is also far lower than in London. Despite this, the University of Edinburgh is still a leading university that appears high in world rankings, both in general and specifically for studying law. Overall, this makes it a very appealing place to study indeed.
Those who would like to consider a career in the law but have not taken a degree in that subject may still have a way in. A law conversion course allows people with a degree in another subject, or in some cases strong relevant experience, to qualify for a legal career after a year’s further study.
What is a Conversion Course?
Commonly known as a law conversion course, this mode of study is more properly known as a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or the Common Professional Examination (CPE). The course takes one year, or two years if taken part-time, and essentially crams the seven core modules of a law degree into a single year’s worth of study. Transferable skills and knowledge gained in your first degree is considered to take the place of the rest of the law degree.
By the end of the GDL, you will essentially be at the same stage as somebody who has just completed a law degree. You will still need to complete a vocational course and a training contract in a law firm (to become a solicitor) or set of chambers (to become a barrister) before you are fully qualified. These requirements are the same as those that apply to law graduates.
How Much Does it Cost?
The cost of completing a GDL varies, depending on the institution in which you wish to study. Prices for the most recent courses, which began this year, generally ranged from £7,500-£10,000. You may be entitled to a discount if studying at the same institution as you chose for your original degree. There may also be other funding options available from professional bodies or even city law firms.
If taking the course full-time, you will find study very intensive. This has an impact on costs, because it makes it very difficult to fund your course or living expenses with a part-time job while studying. Unless you are able to meet both course costs and living expenses without additional income, you should probably consider the part-time course.
What Does the Conversion Course Entail?
The conversion course entails most of the central aspects of a law degree. This includes the study of seven core modules, which are as follows:
- Land Law
- Contract Law
- Equity and Trusts
- Public Law
- Criminal Law
- European Union Law
There will also be additional aspects to the course and examinations you will have to complete. These include an examination based on your ability to analyse an example case, a statute analysis exam, and a project dealing with European Union Law.
Lord Neuberger, the UK’s most senior judge has stated that a fast-track promotion scheme may need to be implemented into the judiciary in order to deal with the lack of diversity on the bench. The president of the UK Supreme Court stated that often top city law firms prevent their talented solicitors from moving to a career in the judiciary by using “honeyed words” in an effort to keep them in their firms practice. Lord Neuberger further stated that without immediate and radical changes the shortage judges from ethnic minorities and women would simply take too long to correct.
In an interview with the Supreme Court blog the president of the court decided to address the issue of the funding system by stating that courts are currently underfunded and that there is an increasing amount of litigants in person which has amounted as a result of the recent legal aid cuts. Lord Neuberger argued that the legal aid cuts are resolving in longer delays as well as less good justice.
The comments made by the judge will provide more fuel to the fire in the ongoing debate on how exactly to make the UK’s senior bench better reflect the composition of the UK society. In total, 24.5% of court judges are women and about 5.8% are from ethnic backgrounds with only seven out of 38 judges in the court of appeal being women. The problem escalates when looking at the composition of the Supreme Court with only one of twelve justices being a woman, Lady Hale. Lord Sumption, a justice at the Supreme Court has said that under the current mechanism of appointing judges it will take some 50 years before a representative judiciary is achieved.
Lord Neuberger has suggested that one solution may be to offer “a career judiciary where there is a potential fast track could be an option: such an individual could enter it at, say, the age of 35 as a junior tribunal member or possibly a district judge and work their way up”.
He was quick to warn that he changes must not however, sway towards those from a minority or unreasonably favour them by stating “it’s important to make sure others coming from a more traditional career aren’t then overlooked. But the thing that the judiciary needs to do is go out and encourage more people generally to consider being a judge as an option for them.”
The Department for Work and Pensions is set to appeal a recent court ruling on emergency legislation which was implemented following a previous judgment on welfare schemes. Following a High Court ruling the government may have to shell out as much as £130m to jobseeker’s allowance claimant’s after the judgement declared the laws introduced which aimed to shore up back to work schemes as inconsistent with European legislation.
The government’s flagship welfare-to-work scheme was successfully challenged by human right lawyers when the court ruled that it was “legally flawed”. The retrospective legislation was held to be incompatible with Article 6(1) of the European Convention for Human Rights (the Right to a fair trial) by Mrs Justice Lang. The assessment was said to be damning by campaigners who are also of the opinion that if the appeal is upheld this could lead to thousands of payouts to people who have suffered by being denied benefits under this scheme.
Critics of the back-to-work scheme have described it as “slave labour” due to the government forcing people into unpaid work placements where they are to conduct “work experience”. However, supporters of the project have backed it up by saying that this is a great way of getting unemployed people back into work and further down the line back to paid jobs. The DWP introduced this legislation retrospectively following flaws identified in the Poundland case. In the 2011 judgment three judges agreed that the regulations omitted to provide people with sufficient details regarding sanctions and in particular the subsequent loss of job seekers allowance if an unemployed person chose to turn down a work placement under the scheme.
The ruling was great news for 24 year old Birmingham University graduate Cait Reilly who challenged an order requiring her to work for Poundland, in addition to Jamie Wilson the 40 year old HGV driver who did not want to take part in an unpaid placement requiring him to clean furniture. The pair were as a result denied the benefit of Job Seekers Allowance for a period of six months.
The public interest lawyers who represented both of the above people stated that following the latest ruling, thousands of people in the UK who were punished by having their JSA taken away from them would now be able to claim the money they should have been entitled to back from the government.
Some of the largest insurance companies representing a majority of the insurance industry have expressed their view that whiplash injury claims compensations should be abolished. The chief of the motor and liability for the Association of British Insurers, James Dalton has called for a policy debate to be conducted as a matter of public interest. Mr Dalton stated that all low-value claims for damages should be removed and instead the insurers should only be required to pay for any subsequent treatment directly. This will be the first time that a debate on a complete removal of whiplash injury compensation will take place although Mr Dalton has in the past called for a moot on whether the damages paid to victims claiming whiplash should be reduced.
At a conference held in London called the Modern Claims he stated “we need a debate about whether someone should be awarded money for a low-value, low-impact and very minor injury claim”. The main issue at question is whether victims should be provided with rehabilitation rather than fill their pockets with cash. This comes amid many statistics forecasting large amounts of whiplash being faked by people in accident often of the mildest collision. Mr Dalton stated that this debate is one of utmost importance to society and that politicians are ought to decide on.
Further, the chief representing the insurance industry stated that although ABI is currently in the process of creating safeguards to encourage the government to increase the small claims limit, he aimed criticism at the fees charged by solicitors in low-value claims. Last year, the Ministry of Justice decided not to increase the lower limit. However, in the opinion of Mr Dalton, this is subject to change ‘depending on the outcome of the election’. He further went on to question whether there is a place in the market for lawyers who represent clients claiming damages for low-value personal injury. In his speech he shared his vision that lawyers should place their efforts with those high value and complex cases and further stated that the upper limit of £5,000 will increase once again, as a matter of time.
On the other hand the Motor Accident Solicitors Society and Association of Personal Injury Lawyers stated their intentions to protect any attempts from the government or political groups to abolish whiplash compensation for victims. It is argued by Craig Budsworth that compensation should in any case always provide for loss of amenity as well as rehabilitation.
11 EU member states have suggested the so called ‘Robin Hood’ tax on financial transactions. The tax is aimed at financial transactions between financial institutions charging 0.1% against the exchange of shares and bonds and 0.01% across derivative contracts. However, the UK government has expressed a negative stance towards it.
This contentious tax will be discussed for the first time at ministerial level in February 2014. There will be a meeting of the EU Economic and Financial Affairs Council under Greek Presidency of the EU.
11 EU member states, including Greece, supported the introduction of a financial transaction tax through the use of the so called EU enhanced cooperation procedure which is used when unanimity cannot be reached but member states still want to further a proposal.
However, the UK doesn’t support this measure. The opposition stance has been expressed by chancellor George Osborn who claimed that the proposition for this tax is not well designed, nor coming in the right time.
Furthermore, another influential figure that stated his negative view on the proposal is the chief executive of the Law Society, Desmond Hudson. He wrote a letter to European finance ministers in which he wanted to show that this proposal does not adequately respect the rights of the countries who chose not to participate. The problem is with the structure of the financial transaction tax. Financial entities which are based in non-participating countries (such as the UK) would still be required to pay this tax under a broad range of transactions. This includes even such transactions that do not have an actual economic link to a participating member state. Hudson emphasized on the fact that those 11 countries who chose to introduce the financial transaction tax can do so but any form of legislation should respect the decision of the majority of EU countries not to participate. The way the tax is designed to work will indirectly force a certain amount of participation by those countries.
Thus, the tax will depart from the ordinary regulation where each party to a transaction holds responsibility only for their own liabilities.
The European Commission has proposed that each leg of a transaction should be a subject to the tax and that each party is jointly or severally liable to pay. In other words, the costs will be much higher. So it is a matter of time to see how things will turn around.
The importance of right motivation really has to be emphasized, especially for the lawyers. When they are motivated right, they will be happier and healthier which ultimately lead to better work results.
In a recent survey, conducted by LawCare, only 29% of the respondents said that they have never been through any emotion or addiction-related damage. Furthermore, the figures show that lawyers are 22% more likely to leave their jobs than people in other industries.
It is worth noting that lawyers have some of the longest working hours and this is encouraged by some law firms. Even though this might seem as a good way to improve productivity, pressure really gets to lawyers and influences their motivation and resilience. They will not be able to manage situations that require more drive, focus and resolution than usual
When an employee is not motivated, he does not have the power to meet effectively challenges in the working environment. In other words, the more effective you feel, the better placed you are to continue to deliver in difficult circumstances. Many lawyers do not feel that they are achieving their full potential and the trend shows that they take more days sick leave than working people in other professional sectors.
Therefore, it is managers’ task to help improve the effectiveness of lawyers in a constructive way. They need to have systems about how to reach in different situations. When stressful situations arise, there must be means in place to deal with them. However, we need to keep in mind that challenges do not necessarily always mean a bad thing. Actually there develop resilience and we do not grow without them. Therefore, managers need to motivate lawyers with past stories of success which was achieved against the odds. Also, the focus needs to be on the positive things, on what is working, rather than on what is not. A sense of pride and trust has to be built in employees in order to feel that their work is appreciated. Furthermore, there are certain common goals that motivate the whole team to come to work. Managers need to identify those things and make sure that objectives and strengths are aligned together. However, managers should not exclude employees from the formulation of the team goals. Actually if they feel emotionally involved, they will be more motivated to reach these goals. Otherwise, giving goals from above will lead to unnecessary pressure, worry and less likelihood for those goals to be met.
Thus, for a law firm to succeed, motivation and resilience have to be in place.
The chair of an all-party back bench committee which analysed the effects the legal cuts will have described Chris Grayling as a man who knows the price of everything yet the value of nothing. Jibes which were once said by the famous writer Oscar Wilde were several times aimed at the Justice Secretary when he spoke to give evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights as well as before Dr Hywel Francis.
The committee had a set task of examining the consequences of three restrictions on legal aid which the Justice Secretary is in the course of introducing. These are namely; limiting the scope of criminal legal aid available for prisoners, not allowing legal aid for people not resident in England and Wales for at least a year, and refusing to grant legal aid in cases with borderline prospects of success.
The committee stated that it was astonished the coalition government refuses to accept that the proposed legal aid reforms will have detrimental effects on the common human rights such as access to justice which includes in itself being able to obtain legal advice where necessary. The committee further believes that the basic constitutional requirement that legal aid should be made available in order to have access to the courts in relation to important and complex matters should be available, of course subject to various tests and limitations.
The report compiled by the committee showed clear evidence of political compromise as it did accept that the restriction of legal aid to those residing in England and Wales for less than a tear was in line with human rights principles. Further, the MP’s stated that measures. The committee aired their concern regarding the impact which the residence test is likely to have on vulnerable groups of people such as victims of domestic violence and children. The committee further made acknowledgement that the complaints lodged by prisoners may be resolved through an internal system with an ombudsman dealing with their concerns. The report did not agree with the state of the law which suggests that prisoners who have been detained and suffer abuse as to amount to a breach of their Article 3 rights are not eligible for legal aid in order to pursue compensation.
In regard to the concern for borderline claims the law in its current state does not provide effective and practical access to justice. Recommendations were made for the government to retain power to grant aid in such cases where it is deemed appropriate. For the moment, the reforms are set to take place unless there is a change of heart by the government of the Justice Secretary.
The Director for Public Prosecutions (DPP) who is Britain’s highest ranking prosecutor has publicly defended journalists who risk their liberty by breaking the law in order to break stories which are in the public interest. He revealed that guidelines had been drafted which are aimed at protecting such controversial cases.
Keir Starmer stated that “would be very unhealthy if you had a situation where a journalist felt that they needed to go to their lawyer before they pursued any lead or asked any question”. He stated that prosecutors must understand that during the course of an investigation journalists are most likely to cross paths with the criminal law which is why the new guidelines take this fact into consideration. The guidelines will aid prosecutors to take into account the crime committed against the public interest pursued by the journalist and conduct a balancing exercise to see which outweighed the other.
Mr Starmer made the statement at the end of another week surrounded with the controversy of whistleblower Edward Snowden who has caused a storm in Westminster. Calls from a Tory backbencher have requested that the police investigate a major national newspaper for publishing Mr Snowden’s revelations about GCHQ’s wide surveillance activities. Without explicitly mentioning Snowden’s name, the DPP stated that his guidelines had been specially drafted in order to accommodate journalists who want to pursue difficult stories but fear the criminal law. The guidelines will place great emphasis on a public interest threshold meaning that journalists are likely to avoid prosecution if they meet this standard. Mr Starmer stated that he realises there is a great number of offences which a journalist may commit during the course of his business which will be prevented by the new rules which will avoid prosecution in such circumstances.
Starmer said that there are many current and past examples of journalists who on face value have breached the criminal law but have done so pursuing a greater good, meaning a criminal conviction is not in itself in the public interest. The starting point for prosecutors under the guidelines will be to consider whether an offence has been committed, if not then there will be no further action. If an offence however has been committed then the question is whether the public interest pursued ought weighed the criminal offence committed. If this is the case then there will be no offence. The changes are set to be one of the last which Mr Starmer introduces as DPP since he departs the post at the end of the month.