Graduates in Scotland’s legal sector deserve better

By Agata Myszkowska March 12th 2018
Happy female graduate is standing near university in mantle and smiling.

By Scott Whyte, MD of Watermans Accident Claims and Care and Watermans Legal

Two things have been consistent in Scotland’s legal sector for the past few years – the number of graduates securing traineeships with firms, and the fact that dozens of graduates are left without a route into the profession due to supply outstripping demand.

For the past decade, the lack of correlation between people completing their PEAT 1 (Diploma in legal practice) and the number of traineeships available has been a serious issue. What’s more, both the Law Society and the numerous universities in Scotland offering the qualification have been unresponsive to the challenges the sector has faced since 2008.

The legal sector profession was not immune from wider economic factors and it is no surprise that the difficulties graduates have faced have coincided with a period of significant consolidation or downsizing among law firms. Over the past few years hundreds of people who have spent thousands to secure a Diploma have been unable to get a foot in the door somewhere.

Many law firms would love to take on new trainees annually. The experience they gain from putting their knowledge into practice in a day job can be invaluable. However, not all firms are able to do so and when they do want to, they are subjected to a rigorous application process by the Law Society to secure permission to take on these trainees. This comes at a time when the Society should do all it can to ease this process.

Two years ago, Watermans took on three trainees. But we received over 170 applications for the posts. If that does not lay bare the scarcity of opportunities available, nothing will. With these three talented individuals set to complete their training and stay on with us as fully qualified solicitors, I’m sorry to say the situation facing law graduates hasn’t changed at all.

This is the third year I have bemoaned the disconnect between the Law Society, our outstanding universities and law firms of all shapes and sizes. Whilst my past grievances have fallen on deaf ears I must again reiterate the need for these groups to get around the table and discuss what can be done to give young people the best possible chance to succeed in the profession. All these groups do excellent work, but to solve this growing crisis a co-ordinated approach is necessary.

As well as considerable expense, a career in law requires years of commitment and a steadfast dedication to studies. In no way should anyone be dissuaded from pursuing such a career if that is their dream. But at the same time a happy medium between the number of graduates and available traineeships needs to be established. A failure to do so will result in a growing number of people being left with broken dreams and significant debt.

It is time for educators, firms and the Law Society to wake up to the scale of this challenge and act sooner rather than later.