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Law school/GDL in UK a good idea?
June 9, 2012 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Should I go to law school? UK edition. This is very close to my situation, with the major differences being that I always really wanted to be a lawyer, and that I'm in London. Seeking some advice on whether this is a bad idea.

If you've seen any of my previous questions, you might have gathered that I'm a dual US/UK national who spent my whole career so far (I'm 31) as a union organiser in the US and just moved to London with my little baby.

I was looking to directly use my union experience in London, but it looks like it's not working out due to a combination of bizarre internal culture, unfamiliar hiring processes, and my increasing realization that for various reasons this isn't a good long term option for me, especially now I have a kid.

I would really like to go to law school in London this autumn. I wanted to be a solicitor as a teenager before the class chip on my shoulder stopped me aspiring to much beyond admin assistant and then I moved to the US where I both found something I loved doing and law school became out of reach financially and logistically. I always thought about it though, and I loved the ways my union job had me interpreting contracts and labor law. I find thinking about things in that way easy and fun. I even enjoyed (in a sick way) navigating the in's and out's of immigration law twice over. I want a real qualification, and I don't want to job hop around the shrinking non-profit sector, which is what my non-union options look like unless I get a post-grad qualification of some kind.

I would almost certainly get a law school place from what I understand - that it's competitive at the TC stage, not the getting-on-a-GDL stage. I have a 2:1 from a top university here, and almost 10 years of sort-of-relevant experience. We can pay for at least the GDL year, and support ourselves while I do it (although we can't afford to have it be wasted money) and I would think twice about continuing with the LPC without a training contract offer or some other confidence that it would all work out. If I do this I will start networking hard this summer, to see if a training contract is possible, but more realistically to make general contacts and find an internship or some part time work. I am interested in employment, immigration, and family law. My dream job would be as part of a medium size practice focusing on immigration and family law for queer families.

How smart is this? I keep reading suggestions that it's all as futile and over saturated as the law school route in the US is now. I can't afford to be 34 and have spent two years and thousands of pounds to be right where I am now, but I can't think of anything else I want to do, or any other real route into something I can be reasonably sure (if I can get a training contract) will provide a middle class income for my family for the next 40 years. I want a real qualification, and I don't want to job hop around the shrinking non-profit sector, which is what my non-union options look like unless I get a post-grad qualification of some kind. I also see doom and gloom about everyone's general job prospects everywhere I look, and I can't afford to let it paralyze me into pre-emptively accepting I'm going to spend the rest of my life in food service or something.

Thanks folks, I would really appreciate your thoughts. To be clear, I am only looking for responses on UK law prospects, it's a different system and situation from the US, where I well know things are bleak.
posted by crabintheocean to Work & Money (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I can't think of anything else I want to do,

I think this is a bit of a warning flag. I loved law school, but most of the people I knew who hated it hated it because they arrived there because couldn't think of anything else to do, career wise. It's great that you have an idea of practicing a particular kind of law, though what you've outlined is extremely specific (maybe you could work towards immigration law more generally?). Perhaps it would be a good idea to make contact with some immigration lawyers in the UK and try and get a feel for what they do on a day to day basis before you make up your mind.
posted by modernnomad at 8:28 AM on June 9, 2012


I don't want to job hop around the shrinking non-profit sector, which is what my non-union options look like unless I get a post-grad qualification of some kind.

Out of curiosity, what do these options look like to you? Because you can do a 1 year masters for 3 - 6K with the OU. (They seem to have suspended social science masters, for whatever reason.)
posted by DarlingBri at 8:37 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


While I was Director of Admissions for a graduate school in a different field (for a US university), I'm speaking from reading your post.

You have thought this through. You have prior exposure to the types of focus areas you would be interested. You seem to have identified a niche. You care and must be good with people else you would not have been an effective union organizer.

Regardless of the grind of graduate school, which I think you are prepared to go through, as long as you have no illusions that there will be dips and ups and it won't all be roses, my considered advice is to go for it.

Your worst case scenario:

and I don't want to job hop around the shrinking non-profit sector, which is what my non-union options look like unless I get a post-grad qualification of some kind.


would only benefit from your qualifications. Naturally there are financial risks and economic risks but two things to keep in mind - you already have an effective plan of action for networking and internships and little sense of entitlement that it will be an easy path. This will stand you in good stead, regardless of the economy imho.

Best of luck and feel free to memail me if you simply like to talk about being a mature fulltime university student again or anything else...
posted by infini at 8:37 AM on June 9, 2012


I know nothing about law school and can't help otherwise, but it does sound like she has wanted to be a lawyer for a long time, rather than "I have nothing else to offer, might as well go."
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:37 AM on June 9, 2012


I can't think of anything else I want to do,

I'm guessing here based on some of the other phrasings that crabintheocean means that nothing else is as compelling.

There's something that suggests to me hat you want someone to say that based on that and how much you say you liked navigating the ins and outs "in a sick way" which is a what a lot of prospective law students say to kind of paint themselves as the kind of person who should be a lawyer or suggest that they have an aptitude for it hat differentiates them from the run of the mill prospective law student.

Have you considered finding a paralegal or secretarial job in London?
posted by discopolo at 8:41 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sorry. Hat=that
posted by discopolo at 8:43 AM on June 9, 2012


I became a solicitor when I was 30, so a few years after my classmates at the College of Law. When I was looking for a training contract (this was so long ago it was still called Articles of Clerkship) I found I was largely ignored by the Magic Circle firms in London because they're looking for straight-from-college material they can mould into the particular type of corporate lawyer they want.

But I had lots of offers from small-to-medium-sized firms because I had some previous legal experience, a fair bit of common sense, I'd had jobs before and so was used to getting up and showing up every day (you'd be surprised how many people find this difficult if they've never had a full-time job before) and so I could be relied upon from the start to be given a fairly basic caseload under supervision, rather than the six months spent photocopying and taking notes that many of my classmates ended up doing.

The market for trainee solicitors is extremely tight at the moment but I think if you're prepared to be flexible in the type of firm you want to work for (although I wouldn't recommend working for a sole practitioner, they tend to have no other partners for a very good reason) then you'll find a training contract that's a good fit.
posted by essexjan at 8:46 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't think of anything else I want to do

Yes, sorry, I meant that it has always been the thing I think "that would be great if it were possible" about, not that I'm like "meh, what else is there?".

DarlingBri -I'm not quite sure what you mean, but my sense is that with a humanities degree and ten years of trade union experience that's essentially planning/negotiating/management/ interpreting law and contacts I need a trade school type qualification to have a path rather than just hoping someone in the non-profit sector will value what I've done in the past. I'm been looking at program manager sort of jobs, and the pay isn't great, and non-profits tend to be a mixed-bag at best internally, and tend to struggle with funding.

Discopolo - I say "in a sick way" because the immigration process for my family has been horrible, expensive and humiliating. But the abstract concepts of what is required and allowed and how it came to be so have still been an interesting puzzle.

I don't think I'm qualified to be a paralegal. I was a secretary before I became a union organiser and hated it, and going back is... a stretch even if someone would hire a union organiser as a secretary! I'm trying to find a way not to settle for making <£15 an hour for the rest of my working life.
posted by crabintheocean at 9:03 AM on June 9, 2012


My dream job would be as part of a medium size practice focusing on immigration and family law for queer families.

Does that job exist? In the US, there are not a lot of medium sized firms with practices focusing on immigration and family law for queer families. There may not be any. And while there are surely firms with people who do those things, are there firms with people who do and focus on both? And if these are not large practice areas in those firms, what are the odds you're actually going to direct your track in the firm like that?

I'm not saying don't do it. The point I'm trying to make is that you should see if the job you really want to do even exists, and how common it is. The actual practice of law can vary a lot by what you do, so you should gather as much of this information as possible.

I recommend starting networking now. Have coffee with solicitors who practice the kind of law you think you want to do. Ask them about their practices, as well as these questions about job prospects.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:21 AM on June 9, 2012


Honestly? It IS fairly bleak right now. I'm doing the GDL this year (am in the middle of the final exams at the moment).

Out of my class of 20, I think two people started the course with training contracts lined up, and another one has been offered one during the course of this year. A handful of people have managed to get vacation schemes (paid work experience, basically a two-week interview) over the summer, so some of those may be offered training contracts by September. At best, I'd say a third of the class will end the year with a training contract.

The rest of us are going to have to self-fund the LPC or go and spend next year working shitty jobs and doing a second or third year of training contract applications. And most of us have good A-Levels/degrees/CVs and have done a lot of applications, just to get turned down flat time after time. It's a time-consuming and frustrating process.

That said, you're not aiming for the Magic Circle and you have plenty of real-world working experience. If you're motivated and work hard at applications, you probably have a reasonable shot. I agree with everyone recommending doing plenty of research about firms and networking.

And yeah, you'll have no problems getting a place on the GDL. It took about four months into the course before I stopped getting the 'It's not too late to switch! Come to our law school, it's great!' phone calls and emails from other course providers.

I have to get back to revision now, sigh, but feel free to memail me with questions etc.
posted by badmoonrising at 9:30 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the US, there are not a lot of medium sized firms with practices focusing on immigration and family law for queer families. There may not be any.

Yeah. That's why it's my fantasy job and not "what I totally plan to do". I'd be happy if I could make a respectable salary and work less than 70 hours a week doing fairly basic employment cases or representing unions. I do plan to contact the firms who do the queer family/immigration stuff I'm most interested in in first though (they are not dedicated firms but they are the go-to places).

Don't mean to thread sit. This is all really helpful.
posted by crabintheocean at 9:42 AM on June 9, 2012


One thing that strikes me, is that you are much older than the average UK law student (who will have done an undergraduate degree). This could really help you. You'll be far more sophisticated than the law students and have a much more interesting resume, which would probably appeal to employers. I don't know the UK market for lawyers that well, but I can't imagine that your resume wouldn't stand out in a positive way -- esp. if you applied for jobs that have some connection to your past life.

Also: Have you thought of doing a second BA rather than just the conversion course? I know it would be more expensive and take longer, but it might give you a leg-up, and maybe as a mature student you could find funding somewhere? (Be aggressive with funding; I find that scholarships do exist in the UK, but they are much harder to find). But again, I don't know that much about this.
posted by EtTuHealy at 10:21 AM on June 9, 2012


Unless you already have a training program and/or job lined up this is a bad idea.

The legal market is as bleak in the UK as in the US.

Your interest area is marginal at best.

And the conversion course is a piece of crap (you cannot cover the full content of a law degree in that timeframe). However getting in is not so hard ... the most important question is whether your payment clears.
posted by jannw at 12:02 PM on June 9, 2012


I am a U.S. attorney, but practiced with a very large, international firm. (Not technically a Magic Circle firm, but a U.S. based white shoe firm...one of the five biggest.) Although I do not know the economics of becoming a solicitor or barrister in the UK, I can say with some certainty that law school anywhere in the Commonwealth or the United States is generally a bad idea right now, unless you have a job lined up. Like lined up in stone.

There are, actually, quite a great many mid-sized firms in the U.S. with both employment and immigration practices. I don't know of any with "queer family" practice niches, though, and this is because both employment and immigration practices at the firm level--whether large or mid-sized firms--have businesses as clients, and rarely do the type of advocacy that I think you are interested in. Immigration, in particular, is a strange beast--the big firms don't do much (except pro bono), but some mid-sized firms with industry-specific clients do immigration work. (Think "farm labor" and "meat packing".) I imagine the same holds true in the UK to a lesser extent, and I doubt that's the kind of immigration work you'd like to focus on, though I could be wrong.

When people ask me whether they should attend law school because, like you, they have a particular field of interest in which they want to "do good", I advise strongly against it. Although legal training is great, there is no reason why you cannot advocate for your chosen constituency in other ways that you might find even more fulfilling. The fact of legal work is this: Whether you are drafting docs for a $5 billion dollar securitization (which doesn't happen anymore!) or working to get an immigrant a green card, you are doing the same type of work...legal work. Laywerin' is a trade, and a technical trade, at that. Many people go into law thinking that it will empower them to do greater good, only to find out that the training, the stigma, and often the debt, leave them in a position that actually lessens the amount of good advocacy they can do.

Well, that was a long and almost specifically not requested response. Sorry.
posted by 3200 at 3:11 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks 3200, it was still interesting, and the insight on immigration as the firm level was useful. I am specifically not trying to do law as advocacy though. I am interested in queer family law (and I am interested in a lot of other stuff too, I think people are getting way too stuck on this) because it's evolving in fascinating ways and affects a rapidly growing number of people. I'm talking about stuff like co-parenting contracts and disputes with known sperm donors, not the next supreme court challenge!
posted by crabintheocean at 3:40 PM on June 9, 2012


My sense is that with a humanities degree and ten years of trade union experience that's essentially planning/negotiating/management/ interpreting law and contacts I need a trade school type qualification to have a path rather than just hoping someone in the non-profit sector will value what I've done in the past.

To me, this is a very odd and narrow way to plan a career track. Skills that include "planning/negotiating/management/ interpreting" are very transferable. A grad degree can then qualify you to take those skills into a different job, in the public, non-profit or private sector.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:43 PM on June 9, 2012


Yeah, on re-reading, just to re-emphasize because this is frustrating.

When people ask me whether they should attend law school because, like you, they have a particular field of interest in which they want to "do good",


Is not at all what I am asking.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:46 PM on June 9, 2012


I wanted to be a solicitor as a teenager before the class chip on my shoulder stopped me aspiring to much beyond admin assistant and then I moved to the US where I both found something I loved doing and law school became out of reach financially and logistically. I always thought about it though, and I loved the ways my union job had me interpreting contracts and labor law. I find thinking about things in that way easy and fun. I even enjoyed (in a sick way) navigating the in's and out's of immigration law twice over. I want a real qualification, and I don't want to job hop around the shrinking non-profit sector, which is what my non-union options look like unless I get a post-grad qualification of some kind.

You sound a lot like a friend of mine (also from UK but now in Aust), teenage dreams, class chip and all. She left high school and became a forest feral and single mum and spent her days saving trees. Part of that involved dissecting legislation and developing cases to run through the environmental court. She really enjoyed that and so when the kid was school age she moved to town and got into a paralegal undergrad degree as a mature aged student. She did so well that five years later she graduated with a para and law degree with honours. She is now head solicitor for a successful environmental law firm.

If you have a passion, which it sounds like you do, and the will to be a lawyer, I say go for it. Those things will get you through and help you rise to the top.
posted by Kerasia at 4:04 PM on June 9, 2012


Crabintheocean: I get that. I misunderstood your interest, and I apologize, but my comment still holds from a slightly different perspective. This is a difficult answer to give from the side of someone who has practiced, but I try. My point is that it doesn't matter what field you are interested in...if you go to law school, you will be doing legal work. With the exception of a few specialized fields (mostly in the hard IP), you should know that the workaday world of law isn't really (or probably won't really be) very close to your area of interest. We work in the technical, not really in the practical. That said, if your're interested in the actual contract law, then that's a different ball game. If your interest lies with the law and not the subject matter, then you perhaps should consider law school (although not in the U.S.).

As an aside, if you are specifically not interested in law as advocacy, then you should not go to law school, full stop. As an attorney or solicitor, you are an advocate. That's what we are. Also, if you don't want to spend all day with pedantic asses like me who point out things like "attorney are advocates", even though I had a pretty strong inclination that you were using the word "advocacy" in a specialized way with a slightly different meaning, then law also might not be for you! ;)

Two more things, and these are guaranteed to be useful. 1) Do NOT go to law school in the U.S. There are no jobs, and there are too many qualified people. Law school in the U.S. is currently too expensive. If anyone tells you otherwise, for any reason, they are either lying, selling you something, justifying their own decision, or are misinformed. 2) Asking this question on places like MeFi is a really good idea. I don't know how transparent the job placement information is in the UK compared to the U.S., but before you make your decision you would probably be well-advised to read through some sites like Above the Law and Roll on Friday. ATL, especially, is tabloid and all that, but they have actually been on the front-line of the legal market crisis, and they offer some insights into overseas markets. ROF is good, and focused more on the UK.

No matter which way you decide, best of luck to you!
posted by 3200 at 4:20 PM on June 9, 2012


I think what some people are reacting to is this idea that you think law is intellectually interesting -- and that rarely, if ever, survives practicing for any length of time. To the extent your question is purely about finances and job prospects, that doesn't apply, but to the extent your question is more broadly about whether this is a good idea, I think it's an important factor to consider. Try to keep an open mind about the experience people want to share.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:19 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


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