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Law students sceptical that solicitor route is open to all

By John Hyde >>

(28 February 2024)

Just a third of new and future entrants to the legal profession actually believe anyone can become a solicitor, a new study has found.

Researchers working alongside City firms BCLP, Clifford Chance, Gateley and Macfarlanes found widespread scepticism from law students and trainees about the prospects of someone getting on in the profession without a background in the law.

The survey of 1,228 new entrants found that 64% did not think becoming a solicitor was available to everyone, regardless of background. Just over 40% of men thought anyone could become a solicitor, compared to just 24% of women who believed this.

Of those who thought the profession was closed to some people, 38% thought connections were a factor, while 35% believed socio-economic barriers impede success.

White males from middle-class backgrounds are the most confident about getting into law. Those who agreed there were ‘people like me’ in the profession were most likely to be male (81%), white (81%), and from a high socio-economic background (89%). Only 54% of low socio-economic background respondents agreed with the statement.

‘Our research suggests there is more work to be done by universities and firms to support and prepare students from less privileged backgrounds to succeed in getting through the recruitment process, and indeed once they have secured their place at a firm,’ said Lisa Marris, head of research at the consultancy Cibyl which carried out the poll.

‘Perceptions of students around where and how they can gain access to work experience and through this, legal connections seems to be key, and there is a real opportunity for the legal and education sectors to work together to help improve this.’

The Cibyl report said there was a perception, especially among students from poorer backgrounds, that they would not be able to secure legal work experience. The company recommended that where possible firms should invest in virtual internships which offer wider access, appeal and opportunity.

Some students also struggled with understanding phrases such as ‘magic circle’ and researchers said firms should ensure that sector-specific language should be supported by a clear explanation of what it means.

When asked what they want when applying to a firm, top of the respondents’ list were a good work/life balance (35%), and a prestigious firm (30%) with a friendly culture (29%). Only 16% said a high trainee salary.

‘Whilst advances have been made to widen access to the legal profession, the challenge of navigating this landscape is still significantly greater for some than others,’ said Toby Horner, early talent acquisition manager at Clifford Chance.

‘It’s our mission to help students and graduates make more informed choices about their career through tackling any misconceptions and challenging stereotypes about entering the profession.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)