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WHY THE OBSESSION WITH A-LEVELS?

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Cathryn Kozlowski focused on getting top music qualifications rather than top A-levels, but now she wants to be a lawyer and is finding that firms hold this against her

Almost every training contract and vac scheme application now begins with a filtering process, whereby you must state whether you achieved the usual minimum A-level requirement of AAB.

If you haven’t achieved this, you are typically asked whether you wish to continue with your application, bearing in mind that your application doesn’t meet the firm’s requirements.  So, my question is: why are A-levels still so important when it comes to legal applications? After all, most applicants completed their A-levels over half a decade ago.

It’s clear that with increasing numbers of applicants, firms need some sort of filter to manage the flow of applications. It is also understandable that A-levels can provide evidence that an applicant is able to consistently achieve highly, and is able to remain focussed throughout their education. However, not every individual wishing to pursue law, for whatever reason, has achieved the minimum of AAB.

The biggest concern for me personally is that A-levels are completed between the ages of 17 and 18 – not exactly the age when one is mature enough to know where to establish future careers. More and more students are completing a degree in another subject, and later converting to law. For me, music was my passion until mid-way through university, and my desire to pursue law didn’t become evident until the third year of university. For this reason, I focused on my music prior to university, and achieved a high number of music qualifications alongside my A-levels, as these were the qualifications my university had specified I must achieve. Unfortunately, I achieved these at the detriment of my A-levels and so now find myself in a difficult position. So what can be done to overcome this obstacle?

Some careers advisors and practising lawyers tell you that it may be possible to overcome an A-level “blip” with high levels of legal work experience. This is where the real problem lies. How is one supposed to gain work experience, whether it be a week’s work experience or a paralegal position, without the A-level grades? It appears to be a vicious circle. While there are firms that will endeavour to assist candidates get their foot on the legal ladder, it’s far more difficult to gain a position at the top tier firms with lower A-level grades. Surely a more realistic assessment on a candidate’s dedication to law would be to place more emphasis on what grade they got in their degree and/or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)?

Unfortunately, for the time being, while there are success stories out there, it is an undisputed fact that students with top A-level grades will continue to be more successful in the quest for a coveted training contract with a magic circle firm.

Cathryn Kozlowski is a law graduate who is interested in media and criminal law. She is currently working in wine investment, and blogs at Legally-London.