During the recent public sector strikes, I was struck by the size of the turnout and the vehemence of the strikers. For many of them, this was the first time they had ever gone on strike – the government’s programme of cuts seeing them to take that final step of walking out.
The strikers’ very public expression of militant discontent started me thinking about whether the same drive to protest could lurk somewhere within law students. With the exception of ‘OccupyTheInns’, a law graduate who recently wrote several posts for Legal Cheek, I’m not aware of any law student campaign trying to affect change in the legal profession. In some ways, this is surprising. Surely it would follow that in exchange for engaging in the arduous legal education process and training contract or pupillage hunt, law students would want a say in the running of the legal profession?
There is, of course, the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) of the Law Society, which is open to law students. Unfortunately, many don’t realise this. I recently became involved in the national committee of the JLD, but was shocked to find on mentioning it to fellow students the response was one of, frankly, “huh?”
Granted, the JLD is a relatively new organisation, having been amalgamated in 2007 from several disparate committees into what appears to be a much more streamlined operation. This newness, however, does not excuse the low profile it has among students. A newsletter is sent out regularly, and the legal education providers also play their part in alerting students to how the JLD is there to help them. But much of this information seems to fall on deaf ears. Students seem to be unaware both of the opportunity of engaging with the profession right from the very beginning of their careers. I am certain that most do not realise how many people are on their side.
The JLD has an ongoing policy plan for dealing with problems with the Legal Practice Course (LPC). And various legal commentators regularly address issues that affect student life. Plus there is a network of local groups for young lawyers and law students which aim to make their lives easier.
In this era of heightened political engagement, maybe it’s time for a new mindset need to be cultivated among law students. They are the future of the legal profession, after all, and as such it’s right that they engage and challenge it. Only then, I believe, will some of the ongoing issues with legal education, such as the oversupply of law graduates relative to jobs, have a real hope of being solved. We need the student voices to be heard.
Cat Pond is currently studying the LPC at the College of Law. Previously she studied history of art, then completed the GDL, and hopes to go on to work for a London firm.