What kind of support did you receive during your studies after leaving school – and if it hadn’t been available, what would it have meant for any ambition of going on to study at university?
Education-wise, I was pretty lucky. I went to a state school that did well in national league tables, my parents had both been in higher education and there was never any question I could go to university if I wanted to. I'd be supported while I was there. I paid no fees, and had a part-time job which meant I could prioritise my studies. If I'd chosen to do the post-graduate legal diploma after my degree, I would have been offered funding to cover most of the fee.
Only in the last few years have I have considered how lucky I really was. While Scottish students don’t pay fees in Scotland, in truth it was really the financial and family support I received that gave me these opportunities. The lack of fees may be universal for Scottish students, but it isn't a level playing field. The Sutton Trust reports students from the five wealthiest areas of Scotland are four times more likely to go to university than fellow students in the five least advantaged regions.
Contrast this with the fact that there has been a slight increase in the number of students from deprived backgrounds attending university in England – despite the introduction of fees of £9,000. So what else is at play, as having zero tuition fees does not seem to be assisting those from less advantaged areas to attend university? There are other barriers, societal and educational barriers beyond the remit of the Law Society of Scotland, yet we believe we can make a difference.
Since launching our successful Street Law programme less than two years ago, we have worked with 45 schools and hundreds of pupils with the aim of improving their legal knowledge and raising aspirations. We want to break down misconceptions and educate young people about the law and how it affects them.
Street Law sessions might also spark a desire to study law: some of our most talented future lawyers may be in these classes but not have the same support that I, and countless of my peers, had.
“Raising aspirations” is the phrase of the moment, but it is of limited value unless we can offer any practical help to those talented pupils who cannot afford to study law.
That’s where the Lawscot Foundation comes in. Our newly launched charity is here to help pupils who have the drive and talent to become lawyers, but lack the finances and support to do so. A key part of the foundation is to help make joining the legal profession a bit less daunting, by setting up mentoring relationships and offering work shadowing opportunities.
Our priority is to ensure there is money in the Lawscot Foundation pot to help as many people as possible. To find out more or make a donation go to www.lawscotfoundation.org.uk.
We’re keen to talk to solicitors interested in becoming involved as a mentor and to firms and organisations who might want to help by sponsoring a student, or offering work shadowing opportunities.
Please get in touch – together we can support the next generation of Scottish solicitors.
Heather McKendrick is head of careers and outreach, Law Society of Scotland