Added2nd December 2013 by Riverview LawRiverview Law

The next generation: there is hope!

I and my colleagues speak at quite a few events. We enjoy it, and it’s a very good way of meeting people and discussing different ways of delivering legal services (particularly our ways!). Having said that, some events are better than others and I’m sure that we have all sat through a few lengthy low-energy sessions which fall somewhat short of their initial promise, despite a hefty price tag and heavyweight speakers – CPD points and forty winks anybody? In November, I was invited by the UCL Law Society to take part in a panel discussion entitled “The Future of the Legal Profession”. A weighty topic and pretty relevant to a group of people who were intending to embark upon a career in law at a time of unprecedented change in the market and great uncertainty for new entrants. This was not an audience after CPD points but merely the chance to earn them one day, and I was very interested to gauge how aware law students are of the challenges facing them and the profession in general. I am happy to report that the packed audience were well aware of the realities of the market. Happy not that they were worried about the difficulties of getting training contracts or pupillages but that they were going into this with their eyes open and, judging from the conversations I had afterwards, a determination to succeed and a very commercial approach to the practice of law. Of course, this is not all good news. Only a handful of those present were considering going in to traditionally publicly-funded work such as criminal or family law. Not because of the work itself but because, starting a career saddled with thousands of pounds of student debt and the prospect of funding the incredibly high cost of living in (mostly) London, such a route is simply unaffordable. However, from the perspective of the new legal landscape which is rapidly emerging, I felt that the response of the students indicated a welcome move away from the traditional ivory tower viewpoint of the profession and towards a more pragmatic, commercial and customer-centric approach. There is hope! There is hope, also, in the fact that an entirely student-organised function provoked an active and informed debate. The quality of the questions were far better than many I have heard in “professional” conferences and it was refreshing to be in such an engaged gathering. Another feature was the diversity of the student body. I don’t have the statistics to hand, but a good proportion of attendees were from overseas – what a fantastic reflection on the strength of the English Law market and legal system, driving one of our country’s most important “invisible” exports. The only downside, for me at least, was that there were no members of the teaching faculty present. I have no idea why this was – maybe they weren’t invited – but surely the challenge of delivering a career for law graduates must be central to the purpose of the faculty, particularly in the era of £9,000 a year fees?