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Is a 2:1 the new 2:2 for law students?

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Miss out on Oxbridge and it’s increasingly a first class degree or bust if you want to make it to the bar or the magic circle

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As pretty much everyone knows, a 2:2 law degree might as well be a fail. With so many aspiring lawyers out there, why would firms or chambers consider such candidates?

It didn’t used to be this way, with many partners and QCs having got Desmonds. If they were to be graduating these days, they’d have been contemplating very different careers. In fact, they may have found themselves struggling even with a 2:1.

Recent years have seen changes in the legal market shift the balance even further away from aspiring lawyers and towards top firms and chambers, which are inundated with applications to an unprecedented extent.

The number of undergrad law students has increased dramatically by 5,215 (28%) since 2007. Concurrently, the number of training contracts has fallen since the 2008 financial crisis, from 6,303 to around 5,000.

Pupillage numbers keep dropping too, and even fell below 400 for the first time in living memory last year. The growing creep of technology has chipped away at trainee job numbers — a trend that is likely to accelerate. And, unfortunately, the government’s brutal and sustained onslaught on the legal aid budget has wounded students’ chances of forging a career in a more welfare-orientated area of law.

No wonder law school has such a hostile, Hunger Games-eqsue reputation.

So how do you go about making it in this inhospitable environment?

One way is to worm your way into a firm or chambers by taking advantage of family ties and connections. This can be directly through a friend or family member at your dream firm or set, or indirectly by bolstering your CV through work experience placements that you didn’t find yourself. But in an era of increasingly structured graduate recruitment, this way in is getting harder.

Others land top jobs by flexing their “extra-curricula activities” muscle during interviews. Don’t know what a merger is? If you are captain of the uni football team, hold cupcake sales for Amnesty International and go to life drawing classes every Thursday, that might be less of a problem.

Route three is to sign up to a diversity recruitment agency. Some law firms are now considering students’ grades within the context which they achieved them, helping place those from disadvantaged backgrounds on a level playing field with more privileged applicants.

Everyone else has few options beyond being a super-high achieving child prodigy or university workhorse.

Just take a look at the intake of Oxbridge grads into the profession. A disproportionately high number of legal profession success stories went to one of the country’s two most prestigious unis, and it’s a trend that’s hardly letting up.

Chambers are the worst culprits — a staggering 19 out of the country’s 50 top chambers (38%) has recruited solely Oxford or Cambridge grads over the last five years.

The Oxbridge bias at top law firms is nowhere near as pronounced, but it’s still there. As we reported earlier this month, a whopping 44% of partners at firms in the magic and silver circle attended Oxford or Cambridge. This figure has dropped for most firms’ current trainee intakes — but many still recruit an Oxbridge ratio of around 30%.

It’s worth noting that of the 24,000 students who accepted an offer to study law at a higher education institute last year, only about 400 of the places are at Oxford and Cambridge.

With Oxbridge graduates in a class of their own, then, students who attended other unis often find that anything other than a first is not enough. Indeed, for pupillage at a leading chambers, it rarely is. At 11KBW, Maitland Chambers and Wilberforce Chambers, to name but a few, all five of the newest tenants graduated with top level degrees.

Unlike chambers, most firms don’t publish trainees’ CVs on their websites, but a scan of magic and silver circle firms’ trainees’ LinkedIn profiles reveals a similar pattern — if they didn’t go to Oxbridge, there is a high probability that they got a first. And you can be sure that the ones who didn’t have a good reason for falling short.

A Russell Group 2:1 may impress your parents, but for law students hoping to start out at the top it may already be the new 2:2.

Is a 2:1 the new 2:2 for law students? We’ll be discussing this question and much more on Tuesday evening on the first ever real-time Legal Cheek open thread, with two pupil barristers from Hardwicke. Join us from 6-7pm — and fire away with your questions.

61 Comments

Anonymous

Pandering waffle. 2:1 is all you need – alongside work experience, diligence and a well-rounded application.

(217)(9)

Anon

Exactly, lol.

(7)(1)

Tough

You need a 1st from a half decent uni if you want pupillage at a chambers where you won’t be earning minimum wage for the next 8 years

(13)(14)

Anon

Possibly the worst time to publish such an article, when students are already stressed by the forthcoming exams. Not to mention the fact that it is complete rubbish.

(90)(2)

Anonymous

No

(52)(1)

Alex Wrongridge

Another laughable completely inaccurate article from Legal Cheek. Probably 90% of students that I know currently studying the LPC (myself included) got a 2.1 from a Russell Group university and are all starting training contracts with top 20 City firms in September.

(120)(5)

Anonymous

I’m not sure this is painting an entirely accurate. In my experience (teaching at a university for two years now in addition to having studied undergraduate and master’s level law) the people who get firsts are disproportionately likely to have done a shedload of extra-cirrcular.

For example, a disproportionate number of law society committee members usually get a first; as do the ones that have mooted a lot; or those who have taken part in a lot of commercial awareness orientated activities.

It seems to me that these people are more likely to get firsts (the fact they’re driven for extra-curricular, for example, means they’re more likely to be driven to work hard for exams) but it’s the extra stuff that really makes them stand out for jobs. Most everyone I know who got a first but did no extra stuff (admittedly, not many people) didn’t end up with a pupillage/TC. However, the people I know who got mid-2.1s-1sts with a lot of extra stuff did get good jobs.

Effectively, unless you want to go to a trusts set (where the focus really does seem to be on sheer academic prowess) then work hard, get a good 2.1 or a 1st, and do plenty of (relevant..) extra-curricular and you should be fine.

(38)(2)

-

What a joke of an article. I have a training contract at an international firm in London and we only have 1 or 2 Oxbridge graduates in our intake. Likewise, at my russell group university, I know about 25 students with training contracts. A 2:1, work experience, and an all-round character that is involved in extra-curricular activities has been and will continue to be the defining criteria

(40)(2)

Anonymous

I agree with your main point about well-roundedness being key, but the article was based on the data, while your criticism was based purely on your personal observations. The article is true to the extent that there is a hiring bias amongst MC/SC/American firms towards Oxbridge or a 1st.

(9)(13)

Anonymous

Alex’s trawl of some linkedin profiles is “data” now? Where did you train as a statistician?

(30)(0)

Anonymous

A 2:1 from an average university will limit your options but it’s not game over. Lots of firms and high street practices take 2:2 graduates if the applicant is right and they have strong mitigation.

(27)(2)

Lord Jon

This is such a shitty scaremongering article…

Do you get paid by lazy recruiters to put people off or?

(44)(1)

Anonymous

I think even the “lazy” recruiters will be annoyed at how articles like this undermine the work they do (and they do some), in trying to dispel myths like this. Considering those recruiters line Alex’s pocket, he should really know better.

(13)(0)

babyb

I think this article is misleading in the extreme, I would also point out that in the past this website has had something of an infatuation on Tunde Okewale, who were have been told on this website, got a 2:2 yet is at Doughty Street and encourages others to pursue a career in law even when obtaining a 2:2 provided they have good mitigation. Therefore, this article seems to suggest that Tunde Okewale should have given up, something of an odd position to take directly contradicting someone who have previously promoted on here.

(37)(1)

Anonymous

Don’t normally comment on things like this but this is a very inaccurate picture of the graduate recruitment market. A 2:1 is necessary but not always sufficient, law firms look beyond academics and candidates should have a well rounded application. Happy to say that I accepted a TC at a silver circle firm and I have 0 expectation of graduating with a first from my non-oxbridge, regional russell group uni.

(24)(0)

Anonymous

Alex do tell us where you studied please. You have handily left that info off your own LinkedIn profile so nobody can ‘gather data’ on you. Look, it must have been a blow to not get pupillage but there’s only so long you can let it get to you.

(33)(2)

Bigboii Lawyah

Savage, 10/10.

(12)(2)

Anonymous

He went to Oxford, and failed despite multiple attempts to get pupillage. Needless to say this offers no support for his website’s obsession with the lie that Oxbridge 2.1=pupillage, which is likely why it’s not on his profile.

(15)(0)

Anonymous

Haha wow, what an expert! Idiot.

(5)(1)

Unchecked Privlege

I can see why he failed to get a pupillage from the way this website is run.

Piss poor copy repeating the same tired tropes ad nauseam – muh gender gap, muh 2:1 minimum to gain pupillage, muh rehash of nationals copy about some lawyer doing something absurd and/or criminal.

Such scintillating output betrays an imagination better suited to a life as legal advisor to a provincial council or magistrates court than any segment of the self-employed bar.

(5)(2)

Just Anonymous

There’s a nasty little insinuation at the heart of this article which:
(a) I vehemently dislike; and
(b) Alex provides absolutely no evidence for.

And that is that going to the Bar with a 2:1 is generally possible only if it’s an Oxbridge 2:1.

Now, the weaker claim: that the Bar is generally closed to all 2:1s is patently false. The latest statistics show that 55% of first six pupils had 2:1s while 33% had firsts:

https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media/1599997/bsb_barometer_report_112pp_june_13.pdf (Page 90)

Now, did this 55% come predominantly from Oxbridge? Clearly not, since only 28% attended Oxbridge (page 89), meaning that AT MOST there is a roughly 50-50 split between Oxbridge 2:1s and non-Oxbridge 2:1s. Obviously the real split will be weighted much more in non-Oxbridge’s favour given that a significant proportion of the Oxbridge 28% will obviously have firsts – and thus can’t form part of the 2:1 55%.

So is a 2:1 the new 2:2 for law students? At the Bar, patently not!

(57)(0)

Really...

Yes undergraduate law student numbers may have increased, however this doesn’t necessarily equate to ALL of these students wanting to have a career as a solicitor or barrister!

(5)(0)

Anonymous

For commercial sets? Yeh, arguably. Everything else? Nah, simply not true.

(10)(1)

Struan Campbell

Of 115 Inner Temple pupils last year; 32% had a first, 56% had a 2:1 and 2% had a 2:2. 10% are unknown. It seems to me that the majority of pupils have 2:1’s. High academic merit remains a leading factor in progression to pupillage. It has become progressively more difficult to obtain a pupillage with a lower-second class degree. On average, around 2% now gain pupillage with a 2:2, the majority of whom will have a number of years of work experience. More information can be found in our careers guide: http://www.innertemple.org.uk/prospective-members/careers-guide

(5)(1)

Anonymous

I’m glad LC is prompting this discussion, and the debate below the line is heartening.

I think some of the comments are a little disengenuous though. Is a first better than a 2.1? By definition yes. If I was advising someone going into the law, of course I’d say ‘do everything possible to ensure you get a first’, but it doesn’t follow that a 2.1 would hold them back! Similarly, if I was a recruiter and had two identical applications in front of me, one with a first and one with a 2.1, I know which I’d prefer.

The point stands that law is increasingly competitive. Graduate recruiters do a great job, but students need to do all they can to stand out. Securing a first remains the ‘easiest’ way to (start to) do this.

As a side note to the angry and indignant readers: don’t forget what comment pieces are designed to do!

(5)(5)

Anonymous

Yes and no . On the face of it you would take the first , probably from someone who had done little else whilst at Uni , or you go for the 2.1 from someone who had numerous EC’s and juggled a degree with this . The 2.1 would get it every time

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Once again, Legal Cheek proves it has the accuracy and competence of a new born giraffe trying to drive a bicycle. I am a second year trainee at a large US international law firm in the city and I was awarded a 2:1 from my RG uni. Why do you insist on writing such rubbish? Do your reporters wake up in the morning and think ‘I wonder what lie I can come up with today for the website’s readers’? You seem to forget that the majority of people who read your articles actually know more about law than your ‘reporters’.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to the mediocre multi-billion pound deal I’m working on, with my idiotic colleagues, most who whom were awarded a pathetic 2:1. God it’s a shame I get paid such an awful six-figure salary next year, I should’ve got a first!

(18)(8)

Tyrion

I got a 2.1 and work in City law also. Whilst I think there are many opportunities for students with a 2.1 from Oxbridge/Russell group Unis and maybe beyond, competition is getting tight. I just commented because I think you come across as insecure. Nobody is saying your 2.1 is pathetic for example. Read the article and don’t be so sensitive.

(13)(1)

Hazel

I am going to throw my tuppence into this equation. I am a disabled, mature, Transgendered law student, who transitioned during my university career. because of the amount of time off I have had to have because of my disability and medical things with the transition, I am currently on par with a 2:2. I am also at a non-russell nor oxbridge university. judging from this ‘article’ I should just give up? the answer would be No. I know from my peers that some other mature students with thirds have achieved training contracts etc. I think that you should look at the individual circumstances than grades on whether they will find work after uni life.

(0)(15)

Anonymous

Surely a troll?

Interesting tactic though. Your qualifications are shite so you aim to tick every diversity box instead.

(9)(3)

hazel

No, not trolling what-so-ever. I am more than happy to provide my university email address if you would like to continue this. I was a publican for 14 years before my disablement. I have strong transferable skills (which most other mature students have too). I know of a (widowed) single mother of 4 children who managed a 2:2 getting herself a training contract. her panel believed that if you can manage all that and come out the other side of a law degree sane then she would be a great asset. the Mods can see my email address to show where i am studying.

(0)(0)

Just Anonymous

I would never advise anyone to ‘give up.’ But I do strongly advise you to reconsider your options.

Not because you’re disabled.
Not because you’re mature.
Not because you’re transgendered.
Not because of your university.

But purely because you’re estimated to get a 2:2.

And I would say the same thing to anyone with a 2:2, regardless of their characteristics. Namely: the odds are stacked against you. While it’s possible to secure a Training Contract and then a decent position, the odds are so bad that I simply don’t think it’s a game worth playing. Indeed, this tragic story demonstrates just how difficult it is to secure decent work with a 2:2:

http://www.legalcheek.com/2016/01/uwe-law-grad-who-lied-to-hide-her-22-is-suspended-from-being-a-solicitor-for-18-months/

So good luck. If you prove me wrong, I will be delighted for you. But in my opinion, it would be irresponsible not to be frank with you about the extremely difficult challenge ahead should you choose to go down this road.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

The answer is no. I’m at a MC firm and most trainees in my cohort have a 2.1 and so do many of my friends working at other firms.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Consistency is more important. And once you’re consistently achieving 2.1 marks, the other parts of your application become much more important.

(1)(1)

Anon

What a dumb article.

(2)(1)

Heather

Are grades ALL that makes a good lawyer? What about the crucial soft skills, how are these measured? It would be interesting to find out what the rates are for these high achievers dropping out once they’ve got that dream job. So perhaps these marks/universities are likely to make a difference but firms are shooting themselves in the foot by not taking a more broadminded attitude to intake. Could it be argued that it’s actually damaging to have identical people with identical experiences working for a firm?

(4)(2)

Anonymous

Strong academic achievement doesn’t make people identical, and even then a lot more is taken into consideration that just academic achievement.

Although flawed, academic achievement is a rough indication of a candidate’s analytical ability, something that is hard to measure through more subjective information that might be presented on a CV/application form. It is these analytical skills that are a requirement for the job and will always have to be taken into consideration, alongside other qualities/skills candidates have.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Firms certainly do test soft skills at the assessment centre. I know this because I did loads of interiews where I didn’t get an offer due to not having great social skills. In the end I got a MC TC because I had a very good academic background and lots of languages and international experience. Large firms with huge trainee intakes can afford to take on more technical lawyers alongside those with great social skills, as both types can add value in different ways.

(1)(0)

Sandman

Nobody needs to bother with a degree of any description. Go the alternative route of going straight into a law firm after sixth form and work your way up as a legal executive. After ten years you can qualify as a solicitor / solicitor advocate.

Instead of incurring student debt you are earning money and building your career the whole way through your 20s.

(0)(4)

Anonymous

I’m 3PQE, got rubbish marks from a rubbish foreign university (not e-learning through University of American Samoa but not far off, missed out on honours altogether) and had only ever practised in-house, came over to the UK a year ago and am about to start at a good west end boutique in my area of specialisation (tax). I got a second interview at a SC firm but chose the boutique as it gave off an awful vibe on many fronts (won’t name names).

I qualified in my home country when graduate jobs were in similarly dire supply.

It’s not MC/US but am making a good career out of my niche and moving up step by step and have gained skills that are transferable to a much larger corporate firm (in the event I ever take leave of my senses and wanted to do so).

No real moral to this coolstory other than don’t give up and be positive. If I can do it with my background then anyone can (in saying that I’m fully aware that in LC’s eyes you are dirt without MC/US experience and/or balling at a leading set)

(9)(0)

Anonymous

What a pathetic article!

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I can’t comment broadly, as I don’t have all of the facts and figures to hand. However having worked in the legal recruitment market and discussing the above (often) with clients and placing NQ’s into positions (therefore having seen their CV’s), I feel that this is something that a lot of firms are actively trying to move away from.

To be a successful solicitor (I can’t comment on barristers as I don’t work with them), we all know that you need to be more than just academic. Therefore a 2:1 coupled with great extra curricular from a RG university is going to stand you in good stead, however firms are increasingly becoming more susceptible to 2:2’s as they understand that you may actually be a better all-round candidate. Not all firms I might add – there are still plenty of firms that wont entertain lower than a 2:1, even as a 5PQE lawyer with a PHD (true story).

The whole Oxbridge argument still baffles me, correct me if I’m wrong, but at the top tier/magic circle firms perhaps they seek the most academically astute because these people didn’t get their 2:1’s/1:1’s from Oxford and Cambridge by putting in mediocre effort throughout their entire education, perhaps these individuals are hardened and can cope under the extreme pressure etc. In the same thought, I know of firms that are outside of London and those top tiers (that’s right, some people don’t aspire to the top/magic circle) and they are put off by individuals from these backgrounds for certain reasons.

This article seems to be the opinion perhaps of a bitter person who got a 2:2 from a non RG….just my opinion.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

Utter nonsense.

I did pupillage 3 years ago. Certainly when I was doing pupillage it wasn’t the case that the majority had 1sts. I can think of fellow pupils from my pupillage advocacy weekend for example with 2.1s from non-Oxbridge universities, who were at sets that paid £30-40k+ pupillage award. It may shock some on Legal Cheek but I’m pretty sure I can even remember someone who went to UWE (god forbid).

When you manage to break through into pupillage you realise that there are a lot of really bright fellow pupils, a few with less than stellar CVs but who are still bright, and also a lot of quite average people. It must be frustrating looking from the outside in Alex, but the picture you paint is incorrect.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

UWE is sick stfu.

(4)(1)

Gary

I have a 2:2 and I am extremely proud of it. Firms and chambers need to look behind the classification and find the many diamond in the 2:2s or 3rds. For example Baroness Fiona Shackleton has a 3rd and she is an outstanding Solicitor!!!

(2)(6)

OxTrainee

This is nonsense. I have an MC TC. I was lucky enough to get a first in Law at Oxford. While there are quite a few people with firsts at my firm it’s by no means a pre-requisite. Also, quite often they have firsts in subjects that in my opinion are easier than achieving a good 2.1 in Law – I’m looking at you history grads.

I think the only area of law where an Oxbridge 1st is necessary is the top end commercial bar.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

An Oxbridge 1st isn’t necessary at the commercial bar. I have a non-Oxbridge 1st and a commercial pupillage. It may be that a 1st of some kind is necessary.

(2)(4)

OxTrainee

I was referring to the very top commercial sets. Brick Court, silver force haven’t had a single non-Oxbridge first grad for 5+ years

(4)(3)

Anonymous

I think most posters here would rate the set at which I have pupillage as ‘very top’. I’m not sure what your definition of ‘very top’ is to be honest, is it ‘just Brick Court’?

(1)(3)

Anonymous

One Essex, Brick, Essex, Blackstone etc. Very few recent pupils without Oxbridge Firsts (and prizes to boot) at any of them.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

By way of example – 4 current pupils at OEC.

Two from overseas – both with firsts, both with distinctions in the BCL subsequently; one top of year in the BCL and the other with several prizes, both with published articles and one awaiting his Oxford PhD.

The other two, both with Oxford firsts, one with an additional Harvard LLM on top.

I write this as someone with a 2.1 from [a Russell Group London university] who trained at a magic circle firm, qualified there and now works at a US firm; but to suggest that you are fine with a Russell Group 2.1 to get to the top of the commercial bar is doubtful to say the least.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Precisely. Those sets are taking 2-3 people a year. Oxbridge first is the minimum. Some even have more

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Lol this reminds me of that stupid blog Legal Cheek ran called ‘occupy the Inns’ or something dumb like that. Where the blogger was clearly Alex venting his frustration at not getting pupillage and was coming up with idiotic suggestions like ‘limit BPTC entry to Russell Group grads’. This website is obsessed with where people graduated from, with an underlying sense of bitterness if they have succeeded despite ‘only’ getting a non-Oxbridge 2.1.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Whatever happened to dear old Occupy? I miss his rantings…

(0)(0)

Anonymous

If Aysh al-Cliffordi can get a training contract we all can..

(3)(0)

MC Trainee

I studied a humanity at a RG Uni and got a mid 2:1. Like many others in my position I managed to receive multiple TC offers from City firms during my final year. The incorrect belief that 1st Class/Oxbridge degrees are necessary is part of the reason the statistics become skewed as too many think they are “not good enough” to apply to the MC/Bar. Believe in your soft skills, quit being an academic bore intent on getting a first and do something interesting with yourself – a 2:1 will get you to interview just fine, it’s what you talk about in the interview that makes the difference.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

As someone mentioned above, getting a 1st doesn’t necessarily make you an academic bore. The people who get a 1st are generally the people who are motivated and hardworking in other things too, and so can develop an interesting and rounded CV before they graduate.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

For me, the legal profession is right to pay a great deal of attention to one’s degree classification, but should pay far less about the institution awarding it. A 2:1 or 2:2, regardless where it was obtained, is less impressive than a 1st. But there’s no denying that Oxbridgers/Russellers get a head start when it comes to getting through application paper sifts at sets and magic circle firms, provided they have a 2:1 and they’ve got some extra-curriculars. And on the internet, with some luvly anonymity, I’m happy to say that bothers me.

Will I be handicapped when it comes to applying for pupillage because of where I obtained my 1st class degree? Am I required to make up the difference with some extra-curriculars? Should there even be a “difference” to make up?

No, because the academic institution most people enter as teenagers should have little bearing on your career path. The quality of the degree you obtain at the end of that three or four year process is what matters. And I’d like to think the legal industry thinks the same.

(3)(5)

Anonymous

The problem with that is that there is a view that the quality of the degree varies between institutions. I won’t name anywhere, but I have met a fair few ‘first class’ ex poly students who are the embodiment of mediocrity.

(6)(1)

Anon

Oxbridge dominance, although strong, is waning. Statistics about partners are a backward looking measurement.

The higher education landscape has changed significantly over recent years and is continuing to change. Over time this will impact recruitment. Institutions like Warwick are still fairly new and rapidly developing. Institutions like UCL and Imperial have significantly closed the gap in terms of measures like world rankings and will continue to do so, helped by mergers with other London institutions.

I also struggle with the simplistic attitude that “Oxbridge” of itself is a cast iron measure of applicant quality. The competitiveness of entry varies massively across subject areas and colleges. It is significantly more competitive to get a place at LSE to study law than, for example, to study Land Economy at a mediocre Cambridge college.

(5)(0)

chickenOP

A 2:1 has been or held the same value as the 2:2 for about 10 years. Not surprising if you consider the number of students attending university and the millions of 2:1s handed out. Golden firsts are the most important thing on any application. Take the matrix chambers, it does not matter where you got your degree from but a first gives you 3 points and a 2:1 2 points. But a first also gives you points in other sections as you get more offers for legal experience with a first. My friend was offered two different legal research role at our university just because he has a first. Moreover he gets every mini he applies for.

(4)(2)

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