Current tough job market made to sound even worse by frequent comparisons with a rose-tinted past, says Alex Aldridge
Nobody seems entirely sure how bad the current legal graduate job market is. Part of the problem is that there are so many different statistics banded around. According to recent research by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, there are, alarmingly, 65 law students applying for each training contract place. Yet earlier this year Cardiff University academic Richard Moorhead suggested we could soon be experiencing a short-fall of law graduates as law school enrolments drop.
Speaking to wannabe lawyers – which I did at length during last week’s #RoundMyKitchenTable podcast, where law graduates Flora Duguid and Cathryn Kozlowski join me and Kevin Poulter – the reality seems to be somewhere in between these two extremes. The well-organised students with good CVs are still getting jobs; it’s just that it can take a lot of luck and persistence to secure them.
There’s a tendency to forget that training contracts didn’t grow on trees during the boom years before the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, when I did the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) in 2004, I recall that very few of my fellow students had secured a training contract. Most ended up getting one during their Legal Practice Course (LPC) year, with the firms in many cases refunding their law school fees retrospectively. If I had to pinpoint the major difference between now and then - based on anecdotal evidence rather than stats - I’d say it was the relatively easy availability of TCs at the LPC stage that has changed.
Tellingly, both Flora and Cathryn (who have completed the LLB and GDL respectively) have opted to take gap years while they look for a training contract before beginning the LPC. This seems to be an increasingly common move, as students take steps to ensure they avoid the dreaded scenario of finishing the LPC without a training contract.
The problem, though, is what do these gap year students do in the meantime? With far fewer law-related jobs around than in the past, there’s a risk that they end up flipping burgers – there are, of course, far fewer burger flipping positions than they used to be, too – or unemployed.
One way I’ve noticed that law students are increasingly seeking to differentiate themselves is through blogging, with a noticeable spike in student law blogs over the last year. Some fade away, others thrive as their authors find themselves hooked on the fix of writing for an audience.
But do these blogs actually get students training contracts and pupillages? To date, the only example I know of a student landing a job through their blog is Ashley Connick, a GDL student who, after failing in previous application rounds, built a re-vamped CV around his online writing activities – and netted a TC at a magic circle law firm. Surely, though, at a time when law firms are anxious to improve their engagement with blogging and tweeting – and bring in recruits with expertise in this area – there'll be more Connick-style successes in the future.
Alex Aldridge is the editor of Legal Cheek