Scales unfairly tipped for many law graduates

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IT WAS encouraging to see Scotland on Sunday (News, 6 May) cover the problems faced by graduates wanting to become lawyers in obtaining the required traineeship with a law firm.

As stated in your article, the trend for unpaid traineeships clearly entrenches privilege by choking off access to the profession for those whose families are unable to support them whilst they work unpaid. The Law Society’s policy to eliminate unpaid traineeships is therefore a welcome step towards ensuring access to the profession is based on an individual’s ability, not on their families’ financial resources.

However, your article did not highlight an even more significant barrier to the profession for those from less well-off backgrounds. The need for students to find £8,000 to £10,000 to fund their Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP), a compulsory requirement for gaining a traineeship, is a potentially insuperable barrier for those without the ability to risk a commercial loan or rely on family funding. This cost takes into account the availability of a small loan from the Scottish Government towards fees.

The University of Edinburgh Law Students’ Council, with the support of a number of our local MSPs, has asked the Scottish Government to extend the living costs loans provided to undergraduate students and some other vocational postgraduate students, such as those undertaking teacher training, to students on the DPLP.

Extending the existing means-tested student loan system scheme to DPLP students would reopen the route to the profession for those from less well-off backgrounds, whilst ensuring support only goes to those who most need it. This change could be implemented very quickly and certainly in time to prevent another year passing with bright and capable students having to decide not to pursue their ambitions of a legal career because they and their parents cannot afford it.

The Law Society’s new policy on traineeships is important in ensuring a level playing field for those competing for the limited traineeships available. But without support in the form of living cost loans, many potential lawyers will find they cannot even make it on to the pitch.

Tim Haddow, Law Students’ Council, University of Edinburgh