Providing a short spell of work experience in a legal office can be a valuable help to a student trying to decide whether to commit to the Diploma - and might benefit the firm too

The Society is encouraging law firms to consider offering work experience opportunities to give students a flavour of life as a solicitor, particularly given the uncertain economic climate.

It cannot be disputed that these are difficult times for graduates looking for employment across all sectors, including the legal profession, and the Society’s recently published traineeship figures for 2011 show an 8% decrease to 488, compared to 539 traineeships in 2010 (although it was considered the 2010 figures were inflated due to a number of deferrals in 2009). The number of Diploma graduates has also decreased over the last few years; however, the number of traineeships being registered is still less than the number of students completing the Diploma in any given year.

As a result, students have some difficult decisions to make during their final year: should they apply for the Diploma and possibly go into debt if they have not secured a traineeship and risk the fact that they may not be successful in this?

Even if they are successful in securing a traineeship, they must also look further down the line and consider their prospects on qualification. The Society looked at the status of newly-qualified solicitors during 2011 and found that 79% of those admitted as a solicitor were employed as a solicitor during 2011, so even on qualification an individual’s future is not certain. Employment levels will always be subject to market forces, and students should arm themselves with as much information as possible when deciding on their future.

Limits of information

Running these statistics each year allows the Society to build a picture of students’ prospects in the legal profession if they do choose to undertake the Diploma. We at the Society are committed to ensuring this information is available to all undergraduate students, and even school pupils considering studying law. We have an important role to play in ensuring students are as well informed as possible about the prospects of employment in the future, but this must be carefully balanced with ensuring that the brightest and the best continue to join the Scottish legal profession.

We do this is a number of ways, including providing a guidance statement with Diploma application forms. This sets out the number of traineeships registered each year, the cost of the Diploma, and the updated position in relation to Diploma funding. We are also visiting all undergraduate final year classes to answer any questions the students may have, and ensure they have as much accurate information as possible when making a decision as to how to proceed.

There is however, only so much that can be gleaned from statistics, and it is difficult for students to make such important decisions about whether to pursue a career in law without having the opportunity to experience legal work. Looking beyond the Society, there is a vital role the legal profession can play in assisting the next generation of solicitors in Scotland. Providing work experience, work shadowing or internships is a hugely valuable way of assisting students in making decisions about their future. The more opportunities students can have to spend time working in a legal office, the more informed they will be about whether a career as a solicitor is the one they wish to pursue.

Mutual opportunity

There is an opportunity to be had for law firms themselves. It has been well documented that some firms, particularly those in rural areas, have struggled to attract new solicitors, in particular at assistant level. Building links with students from an early stage could lead to those students becoming an important part of your future business. There is certainly an appetite for work experience or summer placements among the student population, with students eager to build up their contacts in the legal profession, and most importantly have an insight into possible careers in the legal profession, which will assist them in deciding where their future lies.

Work experience can be as short as a week, or may take the form of a student working on a fairly regular basis during term time and holidays.

Having the opportunity to work even just for a few weeks somewhere can be invaluable in shaping a student’s future career.

The Society encourages all firms and organisations to consider offering work experience or placements to assist the next generation of the legal profession. Placements can be advertised free of charge on www.lawscotjobs.co.uk. If you have any queries or would like further information, please contact Heather McKendrick, Development Officer at the Law Society: heathermckendrick@lawscot.org.uk

 

Case study

Clare McKinlay, a first year trainee says: “I had the opportunity to do a three-week work placement in the legal department of the Scottish Parliament during my degree. It was an invaluable experience and gave me a real insight into working in the area of law I was interested in, and I feel both my studies and employability really benefited.”

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