Law students and aspiring solicitors of the (UK) world, unite in optimism and rejoice. For this week, there was surprisingly good news in the form of training contracts.
Yes, that’s right: new figures were released this week showing that the previously decreasing number of offered training contracts may perhaps be turning around, providing a much-needed boost for law students. I am sure that I am not the only law student who has watched friends sent out numerous applications, and conduct numerous interviews, only to end up without a much-coveted training contract. The competition is fierce, and the graduate market is saturated. So this is indeed welcome news.
The Law Society’s latest statistics report found that training contract numbers increased from some 5,001 to 5,457 in 2014-15, providing a marked surge of 456, or 9.1%. Now, whilst these figures are not at all near the peak figures recorded pre-2008, they are certainly promising, and perhaps a sign that the legal market is slowly but surely recovering from the financial crisis. Moreover, it is suggestive of a turn in student fortunes – competition is still tense, but more recorded training contracts suggests more openings and opportunities are available than before.
Of course, these figures can only provide a temporary optimistic boost, for it should be noted that these statistics, whilst promising, will not sate demand. After all, the number of legal graduates is soaring, but training contracts for these graduates are not. Figures provided by UCAS just this year illustrate this quandary: the number of people taking up places to study law at higher education institutions has increased sharply over the last few years. The amount of successful applicants to undergraduate law courses has risen by a staggering 5,215 (28%) since 2007, and 600 (3%) since last year alone. All in all,this means that there are over 5,000 more students enrolling on undergraduate law courses in 2015 than did so in 2007.
Now, increased student enrolment on law courses between 2007-2008 did not matter quite so much at the time. Life pre-financial crisis promised stability and opportunities in equal measure of law firms and law students alike. Between 2007-08 alone, some 6,303 training contracts were registered. This was essentially due to the culmination of an eight-year run of legal market expansion, creating an increased demand for legal services and lawyers. But the glory days never do last: 2008 and its global financial meltdown came to pass. Unfortunately, the legal market expansion declined, law firms struggled to adapt, and consequently trainee solicitor places sharply decreased.By 2011-2012, only 4,869 training contracts were registered. (I commenced my Law degree in 2012, and I remember being warned that the graduate market was already saturated, and would not improve until after I had graduated.)
Recent legal market trends had shown registered training contract numbers have failed to recover from their pre-2008 peak, and were illustrative of the struggling recovery in the legal market. The Law Society figures released this week thus contradict these recorded trends, meaning they shall be welcomed by aspiring solicitors.
Or, perhaps only welcomed by those aspiring solicitors seeking their fortune in London. The Law Society’s report noting the increase in registered training contracts found that these registrations were most prevalent in London. According to the report, just over half of the training contracts – 51.5% – are based in London. Around a third -33.8% – of all training contracts are offered by City firms: Linklaters and Allen & Overy in particular are offering 110 and 90 training contracts a year respectively.
But the bigger picture makes for interesting consideration. The recorded increase in registered training contracts occurred to a greater extent in smaller firms, not the City giants. Whilst the share of training contracts offered by firms with 26 or more partners dropped from 54.9% to 49.4%, the proportion of places at small firms with two to four partners increased by 20%. In addition, it was found that firms with five to 10 partners saw an even bigger 45% growth.
But Leah, I hear you ask. Why wax lyrical about this report from the Law Society about training contracts? It is really that necessary for law students to be aware of? Well, yes. This is because the training contract ‘route’ is still the most common route for aspiring solicitors to undertake; some 91.7% of the 2014-2015 trainees completed their legal training in a law firm. Yet whilst this route is still the norm, alternative routes are on the rise, too. The number of training contracts offered in commerce and industry has experienced a notable increase of 19.4%, from 185 to 221 in the same year stated previously.
And finally, this positive trend of notable increases in the legal sphere does not just end with law students and training contracts. This continues into the more senior ranks of the profession too, as the number of practising solicitors has also increased by 2.3% to 133,367.
So, dear fellow law students, we may just have a chance to rejoice: it appears that for the first time since the infamous year of 2008, graduate entry into the legal profession may just be happening more readily. It should be noted that this is just one report, and the legal recovery is tentative. But if ever there was a time to tap into a reservoir of optimism, this is it.
If you want to read my advice post on training contract applications, have a glance here.