Law Society launches initiative to widen access
As many law students will tell you, the road to becoming a qualified solicitor is a long and expensive one. The required qualifications include the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or the Common Professional Examination (CPE) (for those who did not study law as their first degree), the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and finally a two year traineeship with a law firm. This whole process is hard enough for a regular student with average financial means and support, but for those facing exceptionally difficult circumstances it is nigh on impossible. Many legal institutions are therefore now trying to promote diversity and encourage applicants from a wider range of backgrounds. In an effort to improve access to careers in the legal profession, the Law Society has developed the Diversity Access Scheme, applications for which are open until 31 March 2011.
The Diversity Access Scheme (DAS) offers to help people who show great promise as potential lawyers yet are faced with exceptional obstacles. These obstacles could be social, financial, educational or personal. In the past, successful candidates have experienced severe physical disabilities and illness, have spent time in local authority care – some have even resisted forced marriage. As the scheme receives so many applicants (last year 175 people were competing for just 25 places) the charity is looking for those who genuinely have difficulty reaching their potential. Fortunately, due to sponsorship and support from various firms and universities, the DAS is looking to increase their number of awards in order to offer more people access to these opportunities.
As well as struggling with exceptional circumstances, applicants to the scheme must be able to show genuine drive and enthusiasm for pursuing a career in law. To be eligible for the scheme you must already be involved in some form of legal education, such as an undergraduate law degree, the CPE or GDL, the LPC or be in search of a resulting training contract. If you fulfill both of these criteria you stand a good chance of being accepted onto the scheme, the benefits of which come in three different forms.
Firstly, it offers the invaluable opportunity of gaining relevant work experience which is hard to come by, especially if you are looking for a placement with a major corporate law firm. Without having a contact who can get you some informal work experience, you have to undertake a vacation scheme which can last one to four weeks. These schemes are fiercely fought over by law students and the application process for places is long and arduous, involving online forms and psychometric tests, and does not guarantee a job offer at the end of it. The DAS helps their mentees gain access to this necessary work experience.
Unless you are already linked with a law firm, guidance during the LPC is often sparse, making it difficult for those approaching a legal career without any inside knowledge. The DAS therefore puts its members in touch with mentors from law firms. These mentors are able to offer members the support and guidance they need through the Legal Practice Course.
Finally, the scheme also offers a small number of scholarships for students undertaking either the GDL/CPE or the LPC. Although these scholarships are not meant to be used for maintenance costs, they do cover tuition fees. This is nothing to be sniffed at considering the fees can range from £6,730 for the cheapest GDL course to £12,550 for the most expensive Legal Practice Course.
Entering into the legal profession is a challenging task for anyone. The Diversity Access Scheme is definitely a step in the right direction, allowing a more even playing field for those candidates who are at a great disadvantage. For a profession which is trying to abandon its notorious reputation of being an exclusive old boys’ club, the scheme is proof that legal institutions are recognising the fact that the solicitors’ profession should be a meritocracy with success based on talent and hard work, rather than contacts and financial means.
Applications are open until 31 March 2011 and application forms can be found here.