Same old story - but something has to change for law graduates

For the second year running, the number of graduates securing traineeships in Scotland rose by 2%.

Whilst it is heartening to see this figure on the up it still does not correlate with the number of people completing their PEAT 1 (Diploma in legal practice), meaning a significant number of graduates simply will be denied entry into the legal profession.

The most recent statistics show that if everyone undertaking a post-graduate diploma successfully qualifies over 100 will be left without a traineeship due to oversaturation in the profession.

This is an endemic problem that has affected Diploma/PEAT 1 graduates for almost a decade with both the Law Society and universities appearing completely unresponsive to the seismic changes that have occurred in the profession in recent years. This has resulted in hundreds of people who have forked out a sizeable sum of money to obtain their PEAT 1 qualification left unable to get a foot on the ladder.

We have tried to play our part to help people in to the profession and Watermans took on three trainees last year. However, we received over 170 applications for those posts and that’s a stark reminder of the scarcity of opportunities available and the demand for them. In addition, we were made to go through a rigorous application process with the Law Society to be granted permission to take on additional trainees at a time where they should be doing all they can to try and fix a problem that they have helped create.

Many firms would love to able to take on new trainees annually but are not always able to do so and the lack of consultation between the Law Society and the profession on this subject is alarming.

Exactly one year ago, when these figures were last released, I made the case for a more co-ordinated approach between the Law Society, universities teaching diplomas and law firms of all shapes and sizes.

Nothing has changed since, and sadly nothing seems likely to change anytime soon. Whilst the Law Society seems to believe there is no sign of a mismatch, I would argue that based on the numbers a huge disconnect already exists.

The legal profession is not immune to wider economic factors, as shown by the 26% drop in traineeships in Aberdeenshire, an area of Scotland that has taken a battering due to the oil and gas downturn. Wider economic factors meant that the industry has consolidated and seen firms merge, downsize or disappear altogether in the past few years. Again, this seems to be something that isn’t borne in mind when the Law Society and universities sit down to assess future requirements for the profession.

A career in law will remain the aspiration for many and I am in no way trying to dissuade anyone form pursuing their dream but at the same time a balance needs to be struck between the supply of graduates and the demand for trainees. Continued failure to address this will only result in shattered dreams and debt for many graduates and an ever increasing problem for the profession to tackle.