Over two-thirds of law applicants are female

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UCAS data shows almost one in ten of all applications are for law

Over two-thirds of all law course applicants this academic year are female, according to data sourced from university admissions service UCAS.

Some 69% (107,085) of law applicants in 2021 were women, compared with just 31% (48,065) of men.

The number of female applicants across all law-related courses has been steadily increasing for years. Comparing the data to a decade ago, male applications have only risen by about 2%, compared to a 41% jump in female applications.

Law courses made up 9% of all applications submitted to UCAS in 2021, with almost one in ten applicants applying for law-related courses, whether single or combined.

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Speaking to the BBC ahead of applications opening last year, UCAS chief Clare Marchant said there has been “more attraction to courses which have an obvious career path”, such as law.

The UCAS data, collated by criminal defence firm Lawtons, further shows almost half of all students applying to study law in the UK are from outside of the EU while EU applicants dropped by 40% in the last year.

EU student numbers fell from 22,255 in 2020 to 13,145 in 2021, due in part to pandemic-induced border controls and Brexit complications, according to the analysis.

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In true Blue Peter style, here’s something that I prepared earlier. I post it again, in the hope that a few people will be better informed having read it.


TL;DR. Health warning. Unless you have perfect grades, forget law – pursue another career.

TV shows and many newspaper articles portray law as an amazing career. Don’t be fooled: this largely survivorship bias: it’s like saying that retail is amazing, because Jeff Bezos is worth $$$$ and you’ll be just like him, or that working in Kwik Fit will turn you into the next Elon Musk. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the vast majority of applicants to secure decent legal jobs. Law schools are churning out thousands of people every year who have been misled into believing that a lucrative career lies ahead of them (or, frankly, any career). In fact, the profession is creaking at the seams with desperate LPC and BPTC graduates who are squandering years of their lives as paralegals, with no realistic prospect of any return on investment of what they spent on legal education, let alone the years of their lives they will never get back. Such people could have been content with other, non-legal careers, but are now in thrall to the sunk costs fallacy: their arm is in the mangle, and they will spent much of their 20’s in low-pay, low-status jobs with no prospect of advancement, before giving up, accepting reality and changing career.

As a comment under this article: warned, “This article doesn’t acknowledge just how hard it is to get a training contract at one of the magic circle firms or indeed anywhere that might provide help towards the cost of the time spent doing professional exams. Three friends of my early 20s daughter are aspiring solicitors with very good to excellent degrees from three different Russell Group universities. Each would interview well and each has funded a year’s conversion course. Despite many time-consuming applications, none have secured a vacation scheme place, let alone a training contract. One is now working as a paralegal and one in legal recruitment to earn money for the LPC.” Another following comment noted, “I was once the Training Principal at a City firm (not a household name) and there were about 100 applications for every single trainee place. Probably 80-90 of that 100 had ‘very good to excellent degrees from’ Russell Group unis. Of course all were applying elsewhere too, but the sheer volume meant the basic level of excellence you cite wasn’t enough on its own to lead to an interview. I’m sure it is the same at most magic circle firms, and at most (if not all) firms providing help towards the cost of qualification.” See also the related discussion at Roll on Friday, here:

Nowadays, only the truly exceptional (academically and otherwise) have a good chance of making it in law. The new qualification process with the SQE is poorly planned and likely to be a disaster. Qualification per se will be worthless, all that will matter is where people spend the early years of their career. The consequence will be to make those who train under SQE less employable in the long term, unless they win the jackpot at the start of their career by qualifying into a high-end law firm. Effectively, the new system will cement a ‘two-tier’ structure for lawyers, with the majority of those who qualified superglued to the bottom of the ladder. The publicly-funded legal sector in particular has been gutted over the last 20 years. For example, see this 2009 warning by Alex Deane of the reality of being a criminal barrister: A decade later, this 2019 article by a newly-redundant criminal solicitor (more importantly, the comments underneath), shows that the position had only worsened: More recently, in May 2021, Derek Sweeting QC, chair of the Bar Council, warned: ‘There are far too many people doing bar courses and paying a great deal of money when the attrition rate… is so high. I can’t think of many other instances where you would train with such a low prospect of success. I don’t think the idea that we should have a vast pool for some sort of diversity reason is a good one. We need to be honest about how many people are likely to get pupillage.’ According to Bar Council figures, 3,301 candidates applied for just 246 positions via the pupillage gateway this year.

Further, law is not, generally, a well-paid career. 90% of jobs are poorly-paid, low status and lacking in security. City law jobs are a minority which create a very false image. Google ‘cravath bimodal’ for an insight into the reality of legal salaries: – and read the first dozen or so results. While the results you get will be US-focused, they also reflect the UK position. There is also a massive oversupply of candidates. This has been exacerbated because: (a) renaming polytechnics into universities has devalued ‘bog standard universities’; and (b) rampant grade inflation has rendered near-meaningless even 2.1s from the majority of so-called universities. Bluntly, you can only make money if you work for rich clients who want to spend their money on legal services. They are few and far between. Fighting for those coveted positions at the top end of the market, the standard of applicants is quite extraordinary. You can check this for yourself: use LinkedIn to read the CVs of trainees and junior associates in City firms – they almost exclusively have stellar academics. There are hundreds of such people fighting for each place. Why would a law firm give a training contract to someone who is academically inferior to the competition? In other words, you’re not competing against objective standards, you’re competing with every other person who also wants that job. (For aspiring commercial and chancery barristers, the path is even more brutal: successful candidates overwhelmingly have Oxbridge firsts).

This is ferociously competitive, and all CVs with red flags are automatically binned. Some people seem resent this, but are oblivious of the fact that recruiting takes time, time literally costs money for law firms, and so we won’t waste effort on anything other than exceptional CVs. In the firm where I qualified we received 200-300 CVs for each training contract place. The outsourced recruiting team were looking for reasons to reject as many as possible of them, so that only a tiny minority could proceed forward to video interview and then the assessment centre. Anything other than perfection is an excuse to bin you. Sorry, but that’s reality. Facts don’t care about people’s feelings – nor, bluntly, do we. The overwhelming majority of social media commentary just tells people to keep plugging away. That results in swathes of people squandering their 20’s in appallingly paid paralegal jobs with no future. Even those who manage to qualify need to cling on for several years until they have enough experience to be widely employable: when we recruit document reviewers for dull-as-ditchwater work spending 10 hours/day ploughing through Relativity, the calibre of the qualified solicitors applying to us is heart-breaking. Some people appear to have just been unlucky on qualification or shortly thereafter, and have never recovered. It’s truly brutal, and all the feel good nonsense on social media is a betrayal of people’s trust. We should tell them the truth.

What you can do without cost or risk is apply to law firms for sponsorship through training. If successful, congratulations, you’re 70% of the way there (noting that you still need to secure a job on qualification, and then retain it until at least 3-4 PQE when you know what you’re doing). If you can’t, for the love of God don’t self-fund yourself through law school, or indulge in years of dead-end paralegal or contract lawyer jobs: listen to what the market is telling you – they don’t want you.

I am not being nasty, I am being realistic. Well-intentioned careers advice online is dominated by both an air of unreality and an absence of commercial understanding. I realise of course that virtue signalling and the ‘boosterism’ of empty encouragement plays well on social media. In really though, it is self-indulgent, and serves only to mislead people about their actual prospects, and thus where in reality they should invest their time and money.



You can tell who has a job and who doesn’t by the length of posts they make on Legalcheek on a Wednesday morning


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