Bias bars budding lawyers from practice

September 10, 1999

Some aspiring lawyers are spending thousands of pounds on university degrees and further training with little hope of making it in the profession, a report published next week is expected to show.

The fifth instalment of a Law Society study, carried out by the Policy Studies Institute, will show how a cohort of more than 3,000 lawyers has fared since starting training courses or working as trainee solicitors.

It is expected to confirm the last report's findings that law students from new universities were significantly less likely to get highly paid jobs than graduates from Oxbridge.

It follows a survey of Midlands solicitors by consultants Bygott Biggs that found nearly half of those questioned refused to consider anything below a 2:1.

They suggested that graduates who failed to achieve a 2:1 should think seriously about whether to pursue a law career in the face of such odds.

Susannah Haan, chair of the Trainee Solicitors Group, called automatically ruling out 2:2 graduates "a lazy way of cutting down on applications" because it failed to take into account personal circumstances that may have affected the degree grade.

Dilemmas over whether to pursue a law career have become particularly acute since the introduction of tuition fees and attendant graduate debt.

The latest cohort report is expected to show that graduates of new universities, women and ethnic minorities are less likely to be employed in the most lucrative large City law firms.

Work by the Trainee Solicitors Group also suggests that the less trainee solicitors are paid, the more likely they are to suffer discrimination.

The last cohort report showed trainees recruited to commercial firms in the City - the most lucrative appointments - were 16 times more likely to have graduated from Oxbridge than from a new university.

Only 3 per cent of new university graduate legal practice course students had their fees paid through professional sponsorship, compared with 74 per cent of Oxbridge graduates.

Sharon Witcombe, , graduated from the University of Central Lancashire with a 2:1 in law two years ago, then took a legal practice course at Guildford.

Ms Witcombe has been unable to find sponsorship or a training contract in spite of her several months' experience as a paralegal and 200 applications to legal firms.

"I have wanted to be a lawyer since the age of 13," she said. "I'm in debt to about Pounds 20,000 and I don't think I'm going to be able to pay it back."

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