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My homeschooling won’t make me any less of a lawyer

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An ‘unorthodox education’ can make it more difficult to secure a training contract, says law undergrad Keir Galloway Throssell

When people hear the term ‘home educated’ they automatically think social outcast or pyjamas until noon. After being told at seven years of age that I’m going to be withdrawn from school, that’s exactly what I thought too. However, the reality of an education outside of formal schooling is very different, the complexion of which can be wide ranging.

If you’re interested in what it was like day to day then the headline is: anything and everything. I had friends — which may be a surprise as not having friends was always another concern people had — who would wake at 7:30am and follow a strict lesson plan with tutors coming and going throughout the day just like ordinary school pupils, but I had other friends who would play outside from sunrise to sunset; and importantly not one of them was unhappy, and all of them now possess the skills to read, write, or otherwise function in their personal lives and in the pursuit of a professional career.

Very few children have the privilege of waking up and feeling excitement as they put on their uniform, but for me, my uniform was whatever I wanted it to be. This was very much a theme of my education; there was no curriculum, nor was there any overbearing teacher, well, excluding my mum… My studies and interests were able to intertwine in a way that I was very lucky to benefit from. One day I could be immersing myself in ancient Rome, and the next I could be going on a spontaneous trip to the Science Museum in London where I could wander around for hours. This helped me develop an almost unquenchable thirst for learning and a tenacity to know more that I know I’m not alone in possessing.

There were days where my education was less formal than others, including days which could mainly consist of watching Suits, or Silk, which are American and British television series respectively and may not be an accurate representation of the legal profession, but for me at least — as I’m the first of my family to pursue a legal career — these were the very start of my interest in law as up until that point, I was so young I hadn’t considered doing it as a job, I just knew they were rules you weren’t to break.

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When I was approaching 16 years of age, a time in many people’s life where they have to make the decision about sixth form, college, or whatever else, my mind was clear; I applied to begin an Open University degree studying law. Because my education allowed me to focus on my interests, I had the benefit of knowing that I wanted to gain a better understanding of the legal word. I’m still grateful for this because I have friends that to this day are still unsure about exactly what they would like to do. Since The Open University, I have transferred to the University of East London where I completed the second and third years of my degree.

I’ve painted the picture, possibly, of an ideal childhood for a lot of young people. However, I’m now at the point where I’m applying for training contracts and this, for anyone, can be an arduous task with lots, and lots, of rejection. But as a result of my unorthodox education, there have perhaps been even more barriers that I would have had to overcome than if I was conventionally educated.

A specific hurdle I have had to overcome includes the fact that (as many recruiters and careers advisors have informed me), because the value of formal education is so important to many firms, my applications may simply be filtered out at the earliest stage. When I’m presented with countless boxes to input all of my GCSE and A-Level subjects and grades, I’m reminded that every positive, such as the way in which I enjoyed my education, can come with a negative and because of this I have found it difficult to get past even the very initial stage of the application process. This is not a problem just for home-educated students however, and so my advice can apply to anyone, but unfortunately, there is no easy way to overcome these hurdles, as it is done through gaining as much professional legal experience as possible, as early as possible. In my case, this has provided the opportunity to discover areas of law which I’m interested in, and those I’m not; and for potential employers, it is evidence of the fact that I’m serious about pursuing a legal career.

For home-educated children specifically, excelling in academic studies is more important than ever, including both; English speaking and writing skills, as the standard of these can be no less than perfect to avoid unprofessionalism, and of course a stellar level of legal knowledge, as this shows that the value of knowledge gained during LLB studies is not in any way diluted by a lack of GSCEs and A-Levels, which appears to be a concern of legal recruiters. Surely legal knowledge is more important than in what setting someone passed A-Level maths?

The motivation to write this short article was borne out of the desire to detail life as a home educated child, hopefully providing some information on the practices of my experiences (and I’m sure many others’). A final piece of advice to other home educated students, is that you’re not alone in anything you do, there’s plenty of us; all of whom are ambitious and in the pursuit of fulfilling careers. Whatever form your education took, don’t give up, never stop pursuing your ambitions, hold on to the desire you had when you first started researching becoming a lawyer. Rejection is just an opportunity to prove to employers, other home educated or formal schooled children, and parents too, that yes, home education is a little weird, but that it’s no bad thing and it certainly does not result in a lesser intake of LLB knowledge or less of an ability to be a successful lawyer.

Keir Galloway Throssell is a final year law student at the University of East London. He will start the Legal Practice Course (LPC) later this year, with a view to qualifying as a solicitor.

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38 Comments

Anonymous

Thank you. That’s a very interesting account of an education few know much if anything about.

But I doubt that many firms – or any other employers, to be honest – will be impressed by a lack of public exams, followed by a degree from the University of East London.

I am very curious about the motives behind a choice to home educate because it seems to me to be such a massive blight on a child’s later prospects. Without some extraordinarily good reason not to allow a child to attend school, why would a parent deny a child the usual social, cultural and educational value of spending a childhood in the same environment as his or her peers? And often deny them routine qualifications, as happened with you.

I wish you all the best. But I think you should use the individualism that home educators are so keen to say their children develop to make your own choice to sit ‘A’ levels and to aim for some more highly thought-of post-graduate qualifications.

I’m afraid I think you need to *overcome* being home educated, not offer it as a positive thing.

(43)(14)

Judy Arnall

We live in Canada where unschoolers can take the final exams in math, english, social studies and sciences without any pre-requisites, and their resulting marks and qualifications are put on the same government transcript as children who spent their childhood in institutional schools. So receiving post-secondaries and employers have no idea who is home educated or not. As it should be. There is a lot of bias and stereotypes still floating around about homeschooling, even though the numbers are growing worldwide. Yet, the evidence that your type of education works is out there. I wrote a book about 30 of my kid’s friends who self-directed (unschooled) their education and entered the major universities and colleges across Canada. Playing away their childhood did not hurt their career aspirations one bit. They all gained knowledge but in an informal route (play) instead of formal education – enough to pass the exams at age 18. Two thirds have already graduated. It is called Unschooling To University. I’m happy you had a childhood filled with curiosity and education. You will never get those years back and you are very lucky!

(8)(8)

Anonymous

Shameless book plug

(14)(4)

Anonymous

Sadly I think doing the LPC is a bit premature. As other commentators state, getting a TC with no qualifications pre degree and an LLB will be a challenge, so perhaps getting some real experience paralegalling May serve you well before you shell out for the LPC.

(20)(2)

Anonymous

I would have thought it was a legal requirement to at least do GCSEs

(13)(9)

Anonymous

I was unsure, so i checked, but home schooled children CAN and therefore should sit GCSE and A level exams.

The issue here is not home schooling. The issue will be the absence of any formal education.

That is the wrong, trying to deflect attention and pretend people are discriminating against home schooling is unhelpful in the circumstances. Nothing wrong with home schooling. But there will be big problems for any child who is denied public exams.

(29)(6)

Anonymous

Why would anyone inflict homeschooling on their child – properly weird and not good for any kid.

(12)(23)

Anonymous

You don’t need an education or qualifications.

Just do what I did, and invent everything.

(13)(1)

Anonymous

We all know who you are -.-

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Damn homie.

Recruiters are struggling with the SQE let alone ILEX people and foreign lawyers using QLTS. Having no pre-uni qualifications is going to be tough.

Your parents fucked you. If they had tutors coming and going you may as well have gone to school.

(18)(9)

Anonymous

This is an interesting article but going to the science museum and watching Suits during the weekday (both things that schooled people with A Levels can do) is not a substitute for rigorous exams and qualifications. This is compounded by studying at a low tier university. If you are serious about your career then you will want to get a first and move on to a masters at a highly ranked university. Otherwise, the sad truth is that your parents sabotaged any hope of a career as a solicitor or barrister for you. You may be able to become a paralegal.

(26)(8)

Cletus Swampwader QC

Never stopped me

(8)(2)

Anonymous

Any particular reason Legal Cheek is deleting comments on this article…

(4)(1)

Anonymous

Because they literally have nothing better to do, they do this on all articles now.

(3)(2)

Anon

Homeschooling in itself is perfectly fine – and in fact not even really relevant to an application or a hurdle in any way – it’s the lack of qualifications that may be difficult for applications here. Plenty of homeschooled people still take formal examinations.

(22)(0)

Anon

I fear my comment sounded too negative – I’m sure these barriers can be overcome and you sound bright and ambitious. Good luck!

(10)(0)

Anonymous

Homeschooling is fine, so long as it is rigorous and at least somewhat structured – it is undoubtedly better than studying at some rotten comprehensive somewhere.

The issue, however, is that it does detract from the social benefits one gets as a child by interacting with other children. If the parents aren’t careful their children will either turn into hippies or little Hitlers.

Also, there is no reason for homeschooled children shouldn’t take GCSEs or A-Levels. I mean, exams aren’t a total reflection of a person’s capabilities, but they are, for better or worse, what recruiters and employers go off. It just strikes me as crazy that you didn’t take them.

(9)(4)

Anonymous

Lots of negative comments which isn’t best for critical discussion. It’s great that you’re realising these hurdles early on as every student knows a TC is hard to gain.

I do not agree with the other commentators saying home school is bad for the child or becomes a blight on their development, not even sure they read the article consider you address that in it. Good luck to you and every person commentating as it seems they need it.

(8)(7)

Anonymous

HAHAHAHAHAHA SUITS AND SILK

(1)(4)

Anonymous

Better than watching redtube

(1)(0)

Anonymous

This is time for some real talk. Some tough love.

Firstly, being home schooled is not a disadvantage. Having private tutors can lead to a better education. This is proven in exam results however. Without formal school qualifications, you have no way to prove that you got a proper education, and that will be off-putting for firms. It will lead you to being filtered out at the first round, pre-interview.

Secondly, UEL is near the bottom of the league tables. City firms and the larger national firms will take the vast majority of trainees from Oxbridge, London or other RG unis. While not impossible, it is much harder to get a TC with a UEL law degree. As others have recommended, make sure you get a first class degree (with rampant grade inflation at UEL, it would look bad if you don’t) and then study a Masters degree at a better uni.

Please do not self-fund the LPC. Your chances of securing a TC right now are next to zero. It’s not necessarily fair, but it’s the world we live in. Dedication and enthusiasm are not enough. There are Oxbridge graduates who are equally as dedicated as you who are struggling. You need to be realistic about the competition you’ll be facing.

If you want to break into the profession, instead of going straight into the LPC, your best bet is to do paralegal work at a firm which recruits trainees from their paralegals. If you do good work, they might take you on as a trainee without taking your academics into account. They might also pay for the LPC. This is much better than wasting a lot of time and money on the LPC and ending up with nothing to show for it (which is a situation that is shockingly prevalent).

(29)(1)

Anonymous

“Please do not self-fund the LPC. Your chances of securing a TC right now are next to zero”

This.

(18)(0)

Anonymous

Your homeschooling might not make you any less of a lawyer, but your terrible writing style will

(19)(4)

Anonymous

Yeah exactly what I was thinking. Not just style but grammatical errors.

(11)(1)

Anonymous

Eg “…and all of them now possess the skills to read, write, or otherwise function in their personal lives and in the pursuit of a professional career.” Unless the writer meant that some of his friends are illiterate but functional, he should have put ‘and’ instead of ‘or’….

(12)(2)

Anonymous

Look at this beast of a sentence:

For home-educated children specifically, excelling in academic studies is more important than ever, including both; English speaking and writing skills, as the standard of these can be no less than perfect to avoid unprofessionalism, and of course a stellar level of legal knowledge, as this shows that the value of knowledge gained during LLB studies is not in any way diluted by a lack of GSCEs and A-Levels, which appears to be a concern of legal recruiters. Surely legal knowledge is more important than in what setting someone passed A-Level maths?

Struggling to wrap my head around it.

(16)(0)

Anonymous

Homeschooling is by no means inherently bad.

In the modern day, access to a computer is access to all the knowledge in the world. It doesn’t even need to be structured. Everyone learns differently and so long as you cover the essential basics such as primary school maths and how to read and write, you can go ahead and explore your own interests so long as their actually educational(for instance researching Rome is educational- researching Harry Potter is not).

However, without a set standard to live up to, homeschooling is very dependent on the child wanting to learn and the parents holding them accountable and pushing them in the right direction. As legal recruiters(or any recruiters) have no way of being sure of that they may worry that a prospective recruit who was homeschooled is insufficintly educated or received a very skewed education- a legitimate concern. Far safer to go for a graduate from a standard school where you can verify the kind of education he received.

Even more damning- and what the author is dealing with now- is there is no proof of a homeschooled recruits abilities. Exams are by no means an accurate reflection of your abilities and intelligence, but they can help give recruiters a rough indication and in the end, their all those recruiters really have and the only practical means of judging. Without exams, recruiters have very little indication of a candidates abilities.

I recommend applying to sit for GCSE’s and A-levels. Whatever your opinion of them, recruiters like them cause they make their lives much easier and if you have them, your path gets smoother. I also recommend looking for post-graduate qualifications from a higher ranking uni. Rank matters and a degree from University of East London means less than from a Russel group uni

(7)(0)

Anonymous

I feel sorry for this lad. He might well be intelligent but if he’d be been better advised he would have sat his a levels instead of an OU degree and got into a better uni.

Nothing wrong with home ed per se – with a good tutor I’m sure it would be amazing. But it leaves kids open to the whims of whoever their parents happen to be and not all parents are good teachers, even if they mean well. For example whoever convinced him that binging suits and silk is educational has questionable judgment.

(11)(1)

Anonymous

Put yourself in the shoes of a legal recruiter.

To them you’re an unproven candidate. They have nothing but your word that you’re well educated and as qualified as the many other candidates with straight A’s on their GCSE’s and A levels.

To use an analogy, imagine you have two bowls of soup and have to pick one for lunch. One was prepared by a chef from a standard culinary school and who has good reviews from a semi-reliable website. The other is prepared by someone who learned how to cook informally from friends and family and who has no reviews anywhere. Which would you pick?

That isn’t to say it’s hopeless. But recognise the lack of formal qualifications will make you seem an uncertain prospect to recruiters who have a lot of good candidates from standard backgrounds to choose from.

Apply to sit for GCSE’s and A levels and try to get some postgraduate qualifications from a better uni. Also get work experience- lots of it. This is crucial to assuring recruiters that you’re just as good as the standard applicants. I’m sorry if it seems unfair but there’s no such thing as a perfect system and law is not an easy profession to get into for non-standard candidates.

Good luck.

(11)(0)

JD Partner

Where I work we’re not interested in soup, we’re more after meat if you know what I mean 😉

(2)(7)

Anonymous

I have a friend who didn’t do a-levels due to difficult circumstances as a teenager, but who did a law degree in Birkbeck in his thirties and got a tc at a small but excellent London firm. You do need to prove yourself through formal education. I wonder if a second BA at a more respected uni might be an option- some offer access schemes for non-standard applicants. Why not ask these legal recruiters what would improve your prospects instead of convincing yourself they are wrong?

(7)(0)

Anonymous

I wonder why the fixation on being a lawyer? The TV shows are far removed from the grim reality of extreme stress, bullying and a lack of time spent with your children or enjoying other hobbies.

Why not set up a business instead? There’s no need for any formal qualifications and if you’re lucky, you’ll be far out-earning the lawyers in a few years.

(14)(0)

Goofer

“Surely legal knowledge is more important than in what setting someone passed A-Level maths?”

Not really. It’s far more important that you are able to handle whatever problems are thrown at you than memorising some stuff about law – you can learn that as you go and will never be expected to remember it all.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

I was homeschooled from the age of 7 to 16 and today I’m a final seat trainee at a U.S. Law firm in London. At the end of the day, whether you are homeschooled or not, some fundamentals still apply if you want to get a training contract:
a) you need to go to a good, well-ranked university;
b) you will need to get good grades; and
c) you have to be employable.

Both a) and b) are self-explanatory and I of course did that like many other graduates currently doing their training contracts. I think that homeschooling certainly helped play a role in achieving these two core requirements. Being homeschooled has made me a self-starter as I had to teach myself for the most part, motivate myself, and when I didn’t understand something I had to figure it out. Having this sort of background helped me tremendously in my law degree as well as during my training contract.

Regarding c) being homeschooled can either have a positive or negative impact and personally I have seen it go both ways. No doubt, I was very shy and awkward when I had just come out of homeschooling. All these factors could have played a negative role in me being able to get a position in what is a people’s business but using the self-starting skills that I mentioned homeschooling helped me develop, pushed me out of it. Soon enough, I was competing in debating competitions, was a social sec, and became more and more employable.

A lot of the comments I’m reading above aren’t fair. The fact Keir was homeschooled actually hasn’t the potentially to be a brilliant thing (it certainly helped me succeed in a very competitive career!). No doubt, the universal principles of a), b) and c) apply to him but they also apply to a bunch of other people who went to school and did their GCSEs and A-Levels. Nothing should stop him from doing the LPC at a recognized provider and continuing to pursue more and more opportunities that come his way. If he gets good grades, continues to push himself and doesn’t blame the system for what it requires he will eventually get what he wants.

A lot of people told me homeschooling would hold me back – I think the result speaks for itself.

(5)(3)

Anonymous

Apparently there is a “University of East London”. You learn something new every day.

(13)(0)

Anonymous

What is truly shocking is that there are apparently 29 “universities” that offer law degrees ranked lower than the University of East London.

(6)(0)

Anonyman

Your enthusiasm is positive, but unfortunately it’s not a huge factor when differentiating you with other training contract candidates who have had a formal education, let a lone Russell Group/top twenty university graduates.

In all honest the only London based solicitors who studied at universities akin to the University of East London are working for high street firms.

(1)(0)

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