A student-led initiative at the University of Bedfordshire offering legal advice to members of the public for free has reopened at the institution’s Luton campus. The initiative, simply called The Law Clinic, sees the university’s law students offer fee-free legal support to those who need it covering multiple areas of the law.
The initiative is not only staffed but run by students, though they operate under the supervision of the university’s legal experts to ensure the fact they are still learning does not compromise the quality of advice they give to the public. The initiative also ran last year, when 24 clients received free advice on a range of issues. Primarily, this included issues in the fields of employment law, consumer rights and issues with housing.
According to the University of Bedfordshire School of Law and Finance’s acting department head and Associate Executive Dean (international), Dr John Beaumont-Kerridge, “The Law Clinic is an excellent example of contemporary Higher Education working to provide a valuable service to the community and at the same time offering a unique experience to students.”
He continued: “Always under the guidance of experienced and qualified staff, members of the public have access to free legal support on housing, consumer and employment issues.”
the benefits to the local community are obvious and, according to Dr Beaumont-Kerridge, “immeasurable.” However, the students are also reaping very solid benefits from the initiative. Running the clinic is giving them valuable real-world experience of providing legal guidance and support to genuine clients. This is helping them to better prepare themselves for the world of work in the legal sector. By doing so, it also represents a valuable entry for their CVs, helping them escape the “experience trap” which can be as problematic for legal students when they graduate as for those trying to get into any other field of work.
Gaining experience is invaluable for graduates looking to secure a training contract or some other first step into their legal career. Places can be competitive, and having some experience of providing legal services in a practical way can be a big advantage. However, opportunities to get experience can also be competitive and their numbers are limited. A scheme such as the University of Bedfordshire’s Law Clinic provide students with an accessible way to get genuine experience of supporting real clients with real legal issues while still studying their degree and within the bounds of their university campus.
Before embarking on a career in the law, you will need a lot of training in the complex intricacies of the British legal system. All this training requires funding, both for payment of fees and to meet your living expenses. Some of this training can be pricey, and not all of it will qualify for assistance from the Student Loans Company.
For some of “the professions,” such as teachers, there are government schemes to provide help with training costs. This is unfortunately not the case with the legal industry. However, there are a few options available for funding.
What are the Costs of Legal Training
The first step in training for a legal career will be a degree. Aside from living expenses, these will carry standard university tuition fees – currently up to £9,000 a year in England and Wales, as well as in Scotland unless this is your home region. The degree lasts three years.
If you study a subject other than law, then you will have to undertake a Graduate Diploma in Law, commonly known as a conversion course. This can cost between £7,500 and £10,000.
After you graduate, further training will be necessary. If you aim to become a barrister, you will have to complete a Barrister Practice Training Course (BPTC), costing at least £11,000 and potentially up to £16,950.
If you aim to become a solicitor, on the other hand, then after graduation you will have to complete a year-long course known as a Legal Practice Course. The price tag on this is lower than that attached to a BPTC, but still will still come in at £8,000 minimum and up to £13,500.
Total fees associated with legal training, therefore, can be up to £53,950 for barristers and £50,500 for solicitors. If your degree is in law and you don’t need a conversion course, this knocks £10,000 off each figure, but still leaves over £40,000 in fees.
For your first degree, you will qualify for student loans to fund your study just as any other student does – assuming you have not attended university before.
For your training after graduation, there are a few options available to you. One possibility is a specialist loan. While the Student Loans Company may no longer be willing to help you, some private lenders offer loans specially designed to help with legal training costs. You could also potentially qualify for low-interest postgraduate loans known as Professional Career and Development Loans (PCDL).
There are also some scholarships and bursaries available. For solicitors, these come from bodies such as The Law Society, while barristers-to-be may be able to access schemes from the likes of the Bar Council.
A few very lucky students may be able to get a sponsor – a legal firm who pays for their training on condition you work for them after you qualify. Sadly, these are very few and highly competitive. Usually, the only students who even get a look-in are first-class graduates of Oxford or Cambridge.
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 in your sixth form, college, taking a gap year off or simply looking to go back into education and a law degree has caught your eye, then read the following list of points which this article has compiled to inform future law students of the task which is ahead of them. Often many students jump into the mammoth task of studying law without being fully informed of the future career prospects and academic requirements needed of them.
Reading and graduating with a law degree from university will get you universal respect amongst employers and society in general. The course is demanding and often tests your ability to handle pressure, work towards tight deadlines and conduct multiple complex tasks at a time. However, a career in law may not be secured by graduating with a law degree and the future prospects of becoming a lawyer are often inflated by many universities. The reality is that the number of training contracts and pupillages being offered to students at law firms and chambers is on the down turn. The next myth surrounding a career in law is the pay which comes with it. The first thing that comes to most peoples mind is little work for astronomical amounts of money. However this is far from the truth especially in a lawyers early days and sectors such as the criminal bar pay very little and less compared to other less respected professions.
There’s so much reading
Most students generally going to university are prepared for the amount of reading that they are about to take on through the horror stories which they have heard from their friends and relatives. In fact studying law is much worse! This is because in order to obtain a good solid grade in any subject it is near enough impossible to pull an all nighter the night before the exam. Third year students are required to have an solid understanding of the law and the underlying policies behind it which means reading 100 in a rush 7 hours before the exam just won’t cut it.
In order to avoid dreadful and stressful all night library sessions you must be able to manage your time efficiently while prioritising school work ahead of partying and drinking sessions with your friends. Another skill which is grasped and not taught in university is being able to selectively study. A good amount of the text you come across may not be relevant for the type of assignment you will be put through at the end of the year meaning it can be skimmed or left out as a whole.