Douglas Mill: Many too many

Douglas Mill (pictured) sounds a note of caution about the increasing number of pupils being admitted to study law with the hopes of entering the profession.

Some of you will have noticed a recent article telling us what a wonderful thing it is that students starting a law degree in Scotland are up again.  By a stunning 17 per cent to 1,480. Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. But for whom?

Who are the stakeholders as we must learn to say.

The profession? Hardly. Way beyond their demographic needs. They require about 400 trainees per annum to sustain a profession of c.11,000 doing c.40 years. Check it on the fag packet. Ok,natural wastage, people going to the bar, England etc probably edges that up to 500.

And with 80 per cent of students now of the female persuasion that can be grossed up further because it is likely that we will see what other female-dominated professions such as vet med and medicine see and that that type of gender balance brings with it a greater demand for part time posts. And maternity is a fact.

So, at most 550 trainees. Not potentially 2.7 times that number. Still got the fag packet handy?

Now let me concede something in this debate – well it isn’t a debate but it should be. A good degree in Scots law from a good law school is a very good thing. Shows a fair degree of intellect and application. Not like some degrees and seats of learning. All good transferable skills etc. Plays out well in current jargon. And many people do a law degree seriously not intending to practise. Probably another 150?

And let’s leave aside the question of how much Scots law or indeed what those of us of a certain age recognise as black letter law the average degree comprises. Or grade inflation. My client firms are always stunned when a girl with a First applies for a traineeship in the sticks. Until, that is, I tell them that it’s not like the late ’70s when only two or three a year per law school got one. And there were five law schools back then. Now? Well you have an 87 per cent chance of a First or 2:1 at most law schools now. Stunning eh? Not like when only workaholic geniuses like Gerry Moynihan and Colin Tyre got theirs.

So, the demand does not come from Scots lawyers.

Does it come from the Law Society of Scotland? No, the quote in the article is from the ever excellent Liz Campbell, but they are not promoting these numbers. Indeed they are better than in the past at realistic careers advice. And that is what this is all about.

There will be no end of youngsters signing up for law if they get the grades. They and their parents will be dead chuffed. And no end of universities providing. Law students are cheap, highly motivated etc. Prestige all round then. Pile ‘em high and sell them cheap. Well, not so cheap if it is the Diploma. No caps, ratios etc. nasty, smelly things these. Free market economy and all that good ‘liberalised’ stuff. Survival of the fittest. Pathways.

So, everyone’s a winner in this much lauded Panglossian world of ours? Nope. Because only one stakeholder wins with these numbers. The universities. Plain and simple.

Law schools trade on the (often unrealistic ) hopes and expectations of youngsters. And that is a fact. the current system has given rise to many unpleasant features. Exploitation some would say. Play your cards right and you might just squeeze an unpaid internship which might lead to a paid internship which might just lead to a traineeship. Or not. Or get a post in a big state-sponsored research factory with no prospects and a salary that will allow you to clear your student debt in 436 years.

Special pleading. I have seen this from 360 degrees. Law student. Apprentice. Solicitor. LSS CEO. Participant in a good few international legal education conferences. Diploma Director. And father.

So that qualifies me to say what everyone dances round. The Emperor has no clothes. We as a profession have stood back and watched universities get fat on the hopes of future solicitors.

I have been staggered at the almost total lack of concern the law schools have for their output. Not our problem. We are in the business of thinking deep legal thought you naff commercial solicitors would not understand. If there is an utterly predictable downstream issues, don’t blame us. Not our bag at all.

Simple solution? Absolutely not. Real issue? For hundreds each year, yes. Just wait till it’s your daughter.

And, on a much happier note, the usual flagon of Chateau Thames Embankment to the first reader who identifies the group and album referenced.

And well done Jim Bauld of TC Young in Glasgow for pipping hordes of ageing Led Zepplin anoraks last month.