Breaking down barriers: Barriers to entry into the legal profession


Not being able to gain work experience while studying, attending the wrong university, inability to acquire the necessary qualifications, and fierce competition are just some of the barriers to entering the legal profession. Third-year law student Abby Spalding discusses the challenges facing aspiring lawyers today.

The popularity of law in British universities, no doubt stimulated by the desire to earn high salaries immediately after qualification, led to a wave of law graduates. This had considerable effects on the level of competition when obtaining training contracts, as a stepping stone to becoming a qualified lawyer. In 2020, companies offered 1,357 training contracts, resulting in a total of over 70,000 applications. Resulting in a very staggering 2% success rate. This has only increased with the number of students last year who postponed their applications for training contracts due to COVID. This has resulted in even lower success rates due to increased requests over the coming year. Revealing how fierce competition can be a barrier to entry.

Within this massive competition, even more barriers are established for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” in the context of entering the legal profession, couldn’t ring truer. Work experience plays an invaluable role in securing a training contract, as having relevant experience significantly increases the chances of being offered a training contract by 63%. Gaining work experience is a barrier in itself for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, as they are unlikely to have family members with ties to law firms to gain this work experience. This means that people from disadvantaged social backgrounds who cannot gain work experience through family ties are much less likely to get a training contract than those in more privileged positions who can. This reveals the shocking role class plays as a barrier to entry. This not only translates into the continued culture of white elitism in the legal profession, but also increases competition among those without connections to compete for remaining positions without impressive work experience on their resume.

The cost of entering the legal profession is a commitment that many graduates are unwilling/unable to pay. Even after paying thousands of pounds for a law degree, there’s still another £12,000 to pay to complete an LPC. For those who are not lucky enough to obtain a training contract that will pay for their LPC, the cost of entering the profession is a sufficient obstacle to dissuade them from pursuing their studies in law. It has been found that 38% of students finance their LPC with money from their parents, and those without this option often end up in debt or choose to stop doing law altogether. Despite the introduction of the new SQE which aims to increase social mobility costing around £5,000, many law firms still only recognize the LPC route, due to its notoriety. Therefore, these changes are not as effective in addressing social mobility as originally thought. And it will take years for this new implementation to have a significant impact on social mobility and the reduction of barriers to entry.

Even if a graduate is fortunate enough to have been able to gain work experience, enter and pass university and complete the LPC, as The Legal Education and Training Review Report 2013 put it: “Inevitably, some [graduates] will spend considerable sums in pursuit of a career that they will probably never attain”. This reveals that even if a graduate has overcome previous barriers and hurdles to entering the legal profession, there is still no guarantee that a job will await them upon completion. This reveals perhaps the most tragic barrier to entry – that even if graduates work hard enough or are lucky enough to pass the first hurdles, the likely result of the hours, money and time that graduates spend on qualifying will be nil due to the amount of obstacles currently standing in the way of the legal career they dreamed of.

Abby Spalding


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