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Breaking into the legal profession - unpaid work

Posted by
17 Dec 2014
Findings from a new survey conducted by the Law Society's Junior Lawyers Division and from Young Legal Aid lawyers puts a modern perspective on breaking into the legal profession.

It has been reported that 89% of aspiring lawyers have completed unpaid legal work experience and that one in four have completed unpaid work for more than 6 months at a time. At first glance, this seems like a great idea. Young people are taking their careers seriously and are willing to do whatever it takes to make them successful - they understand the importance of having the right experience to get the right job.

However, it must be remembered that not all can afford to partake in this unpaid work, the surveys also found that 61% of young lawyers had debts over £20,000 from their studies and for 15% this figures was over £35,000. This is remarkable considering the same survey from 2013 found that only 35% admitted to being in at least £20,000 debt from studying.

Combining this huge educational cost with unpaid work puts a barrier to social mobility. Although diversity in the legal profession has improved significantly over the past few years, these costs make legal careers almost unsustainable for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Solutions from these reports suggest that the Solicitors Regulation Authority reinstate the minimum trainee salary - this was abolished last year from £16,650 (£18,590 in London) to just £6.50 an hour (national minimum wage), and to regulate tuition fees for the GDL, LPC and BPTC.

Whatever the solution, it is important to do extensive research before embarking on any career. Law Society President Andrew Caplen states that "Students should be confident that they are right for the profession and the profession is right for them before making that commitment”.

Despite these findings, as a business, we are finding this to be extremely busy at the moment and are seeing more and more newly qualified solicitors starting successful careers, and people moving up the career ladder.

What do you think about unpaid work for solicitors, has it been a positive experience for you or your team? Join the discussion below.
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