From education to employment

Alternative training routes: key to breaking down barriers to legal sector

Prevalent qualification pathways are keeping capable, deserving individuals out of legal professions. To relieve this bottleneck in the legal talent pipeline, Eve Dullabh proposes a solution: bring alternative routes to the mainstream.

Legal qualification is a full-time commitment, spanning several years, and can cost upwards of £50,000. Burnout during your training period is by no means unheard of and if you lack time, funding, or bulletproof willpower, the door to a legal career will remain firmly shut.

An archaic understanding of available routes into law is stifling the sector. More than half of solicitors are female – a figure that drops sharply to 35% at partner-level. This poor representation of women in senior roles is largely due to the inflexible qualification pathways that dominate the sector, preventing progression amongst groups with caring responsibilities, who are disproportionately affected by the rigid and lengthy time commitments of standard courses.

Another group frequently filtered out by inflexible courses is, counterintuitively, legal professionals! I worked with a highly capable legal secretary with back-of-the-hand knowledge of the practice who was eager to translate this into a qualification.

Surveying the training available to them, they concluded that the working hours they would need to sacrifice to make time to study and commute to university would see their income cut to an unfeasible level. This capable legal professional was therefore unable to pursue further qualifications.

The road well-travelled

I qualified as a lawyer through the traditional path of a Legal Practice Course (LPC). My ticket to securing the fabled training contract necessary upon completion of an LPC was months of unpaid paralegal work alongside my studies. While I graduated exhausted, I was immensely grateful to leave university with employment ahead of me. In my cohort, 34 out of 36 were not so lucky, graduating with a £16,000 debt and no promise of the training contract that would bridge their studies to a career practicing law.

Like many aspiring legal professionals, my peers had no knowledge of the alternative routes to qualification that offer flexibility, certainty and affordability worlds away from mainstream pathways. 10 years later, as the co-founder of Law Training Centre, I am proud to have pioneered a generation of providers offering fully online, self-paced courses that are quietly disrupting traditional routes into the law and breaking down barriers to entry as they go.

Virtual, flexible learning is available to students pursuing all major routes to qualification, from solicitors to notaries. This form of training works around learners’ existing work and family commitments, offers alternative paths such as the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which skirt the cut-throat market for training contracts, and significantly lowers the cumulative cost of qualification, compared to university-based courses.

On cloud 9

Access to courses that allow legal professionals to comfortably gain new qualifications alongside their present employment is an asset to those learners and to the legal profession. At the very start of my career, working as a paralegal alongside my legal studies was vital for crystallising theory into practice. And for students later in their career, self-paced, cloud-based learning may be the only feasible way to balance a new specialisation with an existing workload.

While in years past, the majority of our students at Law Training Centre funded their own studies, 65% of courses are now funded by employers. This shifting dial reflects growing recognition of the gains in productivity and employee retention reaped by law firms who facilitate upskilling amongst their talent.

Empowerment through choice

Routes to qualification are also far from the single-track path that both lawyers and employers commonly envisage, but there is a marked lack of available guidance on which pathway to pursue. Be it existing work commitments or future employment potential in view of changing sector demands, candidates and employers qualification choices should be informed by their current and future needs, not simply by norms.

For instance, everyone wants to do the SQE, but for some, the lengthy time commitment does not offer the best timeline for their career goals. Instead, a Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) certification can be achieved in a much shorter time, giving the student the option of pursuing a full SQE later, making use of the exemptions offered by their CLC accreditation.

When I founded the Law Training Centre, I sought to improve access to legal professions for those who had been disadvantaged by entrenched qualification pathways. What I didn’t foresee was that one of our greatest assets would become the impartiality we are afforded by offering all major routes to qualifying under one roof. The availability of flexible routes into the law breaks down barriers and informed choice between alternatives does even more so.

Ever evolving

From CILEX to Propertymark, the qualifications available to legal professionals are regularly updated and added to. Agile online education providers are well placed to pivot to the changing needs of employers and students in light of these changes, be it by expanding course provision or amending digital learning resources based on students’ feedback.

Opening doors

The legal sector has made welcome progress when it comes to diversity, and understanding and embracing alternative routes to qualification could improve these gains exponentially. Demand for legal services and expertise has never been higher, but the industry has seen an exodus of talent and there is a critical need to relieve the bottleneck at entry point to this booming sector.   

A more nuanced understanding of the routes available would allow future lawyers to qualify in a way that works for them, fitting in with their existing commitments and interests, rather than offering them an either/or choice: life or career.

Embracing online education is the strategic choice for employers too. Rather than having disengaged employees stuck at a dead end, online education allows employees to achieve their potential, maximising their motivation in addition to boosting productivity and earnings.

By Eve Dullabh, Founder and Director of Education, Law Training Centre

Related Articles