Despite Alan Milburn’s claim that law is still the domain of the affluent, many students believe they have every chance of succeeding in a career in law thanks to the Pathways to Law scheme. Nigel Savage, chief executive of The College of Law, explains why the law should be open to all.
Set up by The College of Law and The Sutton Trust, the £1.5 million Pathways to Law initiative encourages students from all social backgrounds to pursue a legal career. The scheme aims to ‘inspire students from non-traditional and under-represented backgrounds who are interested in the law, and to give them the confidence, knowledge and tools to maximise their potential.’
Commenting on the programme Nigel Savage says: ‘It’s fair to say law as a sector has been missing out on a wealth of talent due to a history of elitism. However, it is an issue that we take extremely seriously and are working hard to address through groundbreaking schemes like Pathways to Law. It is our belief that, with the right guidance, students can achieve a career in law, regardless of their social background.
‘Our philosophy was to do something about it immediately, rather than pontificate or have committee meetings. It’s a unique partnership between us, universities and law firms, and the programme is non-residential because the whole point of this is to encourage universities to look to their local markets, it’s non-residential so it can attract kids from the universities’ own doorsteps. We are talking about generations y and z here, kids who are used to learning on line, so we are teaching them in a manner which is consistent with the way they have learned. We do lots of mentoring which is really important and finally, we can help them get into law firms. The mistake a lot of law firms make in this area is they treat these kids like vacation placements or trainees. The fact is you can do a lot for a person’s self-esteem by simply getting them to do the day-to-day basics; you don’t have to force them into an environment where they feel intimidated.
‘Being a born and bred cynic I thought the law firms would be awash with good quality middle class kids and would be reluctant to take on our Pathways students. But, firms can see a gain in bringing a different type of person into law. I think the way to address the diversity issue is to go back to the old system where you could qualify as a lawyer by doing the five year route; you left school with A levels and went into a law firm and worked for five years, then qualified as a solicitor. The Law Society closed that route down in the 1960s and decided on traineeships, but that is an impediment to access. We no longer think it is necessary for kids to have a two year training contract because that’s the blockage. Even those kids that do manage to swim up the river and get there find though they have a law degree and an LPC they cannot get a training contract, so I think we should reinvent a contemporary version of that old route so you could work in a firm, get an online Law degree, and then do the LPC online or at weekends.’
Sophie Taylor and Chloe Allan participated in the scheme while studying for A Levels and have benefited from advice on UCAS applications, presentation guidance, and work experience placements in top UK law firms. Sophie Taylor studied for her A Levels at Fallibroome High School in Macclesfield and is keen to pursue a career in corporate law. She says: ‘I’ve always wanted to do law and am the first in my family to seriously consider a career in the profession. It’s quite hard for people without role models to know how to get into the sector so Pathways to Law is a fantastic stepping stone.’
Chloe, also a student at Fallibroome, has had work experience at a barristers’ chambers as well as two law firms, and is also keen on specialising in corporate law. Chloe says: ‘My parents didn’t go to university so the application process is all new to them. The scheme has been a real plus, giving me confidence and clear guidance on how to get into law. I’m really excited about the prospect of a legal career.’
For more information on Pathways To Law go to http://www.pathwaystolaw.org/#