Wannabe lawyers face tough choices in the Clearing ‘transfer window’

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By Alex Aldridge on

Decisions could be swayed by trends in law firm graduate recruitment such as ‘CV blind’


As school-leavers get their A-level results today, the Financial Times has reported that increasing numbers of them will be looking at Clearing as a “transfer window” where universities and students go to agree mutually agreeable deals.


As with the actual football transfer window, where the Real Madrids and Man Uniteds only rarely get involved, law A-listers like Oxbridge, UCL and LSE will most likely remain absent from the last-minute action.

But there is set to be some interesting action involving other less established law schools and universities. This group is highlighted by the FT as a potentially disruptive force.


The rise of these options is being supported by a increase in the number law students, with the Law Society annual statistical report showing growth in students graduating in law each year from just under 10,000 in 2002 to over 15,000 in 2012 — the most recent year for which there are statistics. Arts degrees at less prestigious universities, meanwhile, are being dropped altogether.

Where things will get interesting is when students are forced to choose between a degree that doesn’t lead directly to a job but is studied at an established university, albeit maybe not a top tier one, and a law degree at a non-traditional institution.

In making such decisions, top law firms’ graduate recruitment policies could prove influential. Over the last couple of years, the legal profession has set about widening its recruitment net to include more universities. This has been driven by an anxiety to at least maintain current levels of “diversity” among trainee intakes — with the trebling of undergraduate fees increasingly expected to see students select universities on the basis of factors like cost, proximity to home and length of degree, rather than simply reputation.

The result is that firms like Allen & Overy have doubled the number of campuses they visit in the last three years to a whopping 47, while Clifford Chance has grabbed the headlines with a ‘CV Blind’ scheme that has seen it bring in new recruits from institutions as humble as Bath Spa University. As these moves have gathered pace, a feeling has developed that unconventional graduates are almost in fashion among law firms. The message — at present — to students: don’t fear the non-traditional uni.

Of course, this may not be permanent, and students getting their A-level results today should bear in mind that hiring trends may have moved on by the time they come to apply for training contracts two or three years from now. Indeed, it’s not impossible that the likes of Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance may have over-corrected in broadening their recruitment strategies to such an extent. Certainly, it was interesting to see research last year which found that long-held patterns of higher education have not changed as many had expected, with, for example, students largely still wanting to study away from home despite the fee rises.

But it’s early days and the effect of the market forces that have been allowed to enter higher education to may take longer to appear. What everyone seems to agree upon, though, is that £9,000 a year is a hell of a lot to pay for six hours of lectures a week — the norm for many arts courses like English literature and history — wherever they are studied.

At some stage a new established order will surely emerge. In the meantime, students face some tricky choices. It will be interesting to see where the preferences lie of those who find themselves going through Clearing today.