Levelling the Playing Field in Law 2024






Cibyl’s Levelling the Playing Field in Law report explores the ambitions and experiences of UK students and recent graduates interested in legal careers, along with those of trainees and newly qualified solicitors. We aimed to gather honest feedback on the realities of working life, how these compared to the hopes and expectations of those we surveyed, what careers advice they found helpful and how they were responding to the recruitment process.

We found that many students and legal trainees still think connections count when setting out on a legal career. Only 36% of the 1,228 students and trainees surveyed think anyone can become a solicitor. Of those that don’t, 38% think connections are a factor, and over a third (35%) think socio-economic barriers impede success.

Work experience is key to getting into the legal profession: 93% of trainee and newly-qualified respondents had legal work experience, but only 61% of student respondents. And students with legal connections (67%) are more likely to get work experience than those without (58%). “In my mind, it is very competitive”, said one student. “I am scared that it would require lots of previous experience”.

The research also found that white males from middle-class backgrounds are the most confident about getting into law. Those that agreed there were ‘people like me’ in the profession were most likely to be male (81%), white (81%), and from a high socio-economic background (89%). Only 54% of low socio-economic background respondents agreed with the statement. Male students are also more confident than female students: 42% of men think anyone can become a solicitor compared to 24% of females.

Technology is an essential part of the selection process. Students are increasingly using Instagram and TikTok to research different careers, but they value face-to-face interviews more than video interviews. Almost half (49%) loved their face-to-face interview and 46% thought it ok; 54% disliked their video interview. Because of concerns about the accuracy and authenticity of generative AI only 28% of students would use tools like ChatGPT to help with their applications.

The legal sector has made significant progress in improving access to the legal profession over recent years. Our research suggests there is more work to be done by universities and firms to support and prepare students from less privileged backgrounds to succeed in getting through the recruitment process and once they have secured their place at a firm. Perceptions of students around where and how they can gain access to work experience and through this, legal connections seem to be key. There is a real opportunity for the legal and education sectors to work together to help improve this.

The survey was conducted in partnership with law firms BCLP, Clifford Chance, Gateley, and Macfarlanes.

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