Access to legal work experience: lessons for legal education


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Slides for the presentation by Andrew Francis (Keele University) and Hilary Sommerlad (Leeds Metropolitan University) at LILAC10.

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Access to legal work experience: lessons for legal education

  1. 1. ACCESS TO LEGAL WORK EXPERIENCE – LESSONS FOR LEGAL EDUCATION Andrew Francis & Hilary Sommerlad Learning in Law Annual Conference 2010
  2. 2. LESSONS FOR LEGAL EDUCATION <ul><li>UKCLE funded project </li></ul><ul><li>Key Findings for Legal Education </li></ul><ul><li>Relationship between Legal Education and the Profession </li></ul><ul><li>Acquiring Habitus/Developing Employability </li></ul><ul><li>Curriculum Development </li></ul><ul><li>Conclusions and Discussion Questions </li></ul>
  3. 3. BACKGROUND TO THE PROJECT <ul><li>Small scale study which aims to explore the role work experience plays: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>first in mediating access to the legal profession and, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>secondly, in the reproduction of legal professional identity. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Identify key lessons for legal education which might enhance student employability </li></ul>
  4. 4. DEFINING WORK EXPERIENCE <ul><li>Informally arranged legal work experience undertaken at any stage </li></ul><ul><li>Formal Vacation Schemes – structured, competitive schemes typically offered to undergraduate law students during their second year and before their third year. </li></ul>
  5. 5. METHODOLOGY <ul><li>The project deploys a mixture of survey and qualitative methods with two samples: students and employers. </li></ul><ul><li>Students were drawn from 2 institutions: a pre-1992 university and a post 1992 university. In this first year of the project the students were in Year 2 LLB. </li></ul>
  6. 6. METHODOLOGY <ul><li>A sample of 50 firms was surveyed (26+ partners located in the principal legal markets served by the participating institutions). The survey was followed up by interviews with an illustrative sample of 15 Graduate Recruitment Managers and Partners based in a range of firms from elite corporate multinationals to 16 partner regional practices. </li></ul><ul><li>Emerging Findings of the Project were incorporated into the delivery of a credit carrying module at Keele University. There will be discussion of this module below as a possible way in which the lessons for legal education may be implemented. </li></ul>
  7. 7. KEY FINDINGS <ul><li>Overall student profile mirrors national statistics. </li></ul><ul><li>There were differences between the pre and post-92 institutions – age, mature students, hours of paid employment, UCAS tariff. Important to recognise context of learning environment (Prosser and Trigwell, 1999: 16-18) </li></ul>
  8. 8. MOTIVATIONS FOR STUDYING LAW <ul><li>Most Respondents wanted to enter the legal profession : </li></ul><ul><li>53.9% of the entire sample identified the fact that ‘a Law degree prepares you for entry to the Legal profession’ as a ‘Very Important Reason for choosing to do a Law degree’, </li></ul><ul><li>34.7% gave this as an important reason. </li></ul><ul><li>63.8% of the entire sample wanted to be solicitors, </li></ul><ul><li>17.8% aim to go to the Bar. </li></ul><ul><li>There were no marked institutional differences in these responses, although those wishing to go to the Bar were more likely to be found at the pre-1992 institution (adjusted residual 2.8) and slightly more likely to be male. </li></ul>
  9. 9. INFORMAL WORK EXPERIENCE: WHO GETS IT AND WHEN? <ul><li>55.4% of the overall sample had some form of legal work experience – whether secured either before or after joining the Law School. </li></ul><ul><li>Only 45.9% of the post-92 students had had work experience compared to 64.6% of the pre-92 students. </li></ul><ul><li>Students’ only or first period of experience was most likely to have been at the relatively early stage of Year 10/11 : 18% of the overall sample had experience at this stage. Generally this was secured through family/ friends; schools played a negligible role. This is consistent with earlier data from firms. </li></ul>
  10. 10. INFORMAL WORK EXPERIENCE: WHO GETS IT AND WHEN? <ul><li>There are strong associations between Work Experience at Years 10/11, securing 360 +points, attending the pre-1992 institution (which was more likely to be a student’s first choice) and engaging in multiple forms of work experience. </li></ul><ul><li>Students with connections with the Profession through either Family or Friends were twice as likely to have secured Work Experience at an early stage (year 10/11) than those without such connections. Overall, students were more likely to have had work experience than not, except those students whose fathers worked in ‘routine and semi-routine occupations.’ </li></ul>
  11. 11. INFORMAL EXPERIENCE (EVEN IN THE LARGEST FIRMS) <ul><li>Let me give you my quote: “the firm does not offer any schemes outside of the formal process” . Do partners individually do it? Yes they do. Is it frustrating? Yes it is. …there is a policy, [but] individual partners will do what they want…. Because they don’t read the policy, don’t care about the policy, or because there’s either a client relationship or a family relationship, and they don’t want to say no. No’s a hard word… if you say no in any situation, you have to deal with the aftermath. [ And if you’re saying no to a potential or current client …] It could have implications. </li></ul>
  12. 12. INFORMAL WORK EXPERIENCE: INTERVENTION? <ul><li>Only 8% of the entire sample was refused work experience. </li></ul><ul><li>In terms of the reasons students gave for not having undertaken it, the most common was ‘Didn’t know how to arrange it’, and the Post-92 students were twice as likely as the pre-1992 students to give this as their reason. ‘Didn’t think of it’ and ‘Too nervous’ to apply were also responses which the post-92 students were more likely to record </li></ul><ul><li>Role for Legal Education in First Year? But data suggests that might be more important as part of Widening Participation strategies. </li></ul>
  13. 13. STUDENT EXPERIENCES OF WORK EXPERIENCE <ul><li>How does it help them? What do they learn? </li></ul><ul><li>Overwhelming positive – fuelled desire to study Law: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ An inspiration to carry out a career in Law – working with people – showing me how the law works in practice.” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Unstructured Activities: General Admin or Loose Shadowing of Partner. </li></ul><ul><li>Student experience as learning and teaching resource (Light and Cox, 2001: 79) </li></ul>
  14. 14. STUDENT UNDERSTANDING OF FORMAL VACATION SCHEMES <ul><li>All students appeared to have a broad understanding of the role, purpose and importance of Formal Vacation Schemes within the recruitment processes of the large firms: 39.5% of the entire sample (with no major differences) identified that their primary purpose was to make ‘Initial Assessments of Applicants’. </li></ul><ul><li>HOWEVER 24.4% of the sample thought that “General Mentoring/Providing Insight” formed part of firms’ motivations for offering the Formal Schemes. There were statistically significant associations between this lack of understanding and ‘not having had legal work experience’ and attendance at a post-92 institution. </li></ul><ul><li>Most generally had a good understanding of what a Formal VS would involve. Although some underestimation of role of structured assessments etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Students mistakenly felt that they would need to demonstrate ‘good legal knowledge’ on the VS to be successful. </li></ul>
  15. 15. FORMAL VACATION SCHEMES: FIRMS’ SELECTION CRITERIA <ul><li>“ Excellent Academic Record”: (Predicted) 2 (i) and Strong A-level results. All firms were ‘extremely unlikely’ to consider grades below BBC </li></ul><ul><li>33.5% of sample had grades below BBC. 62.3% of post-92 students and 7% of pre-1992 students had grades below this. </li></ul><ul><li>Work Experience: Important, but many other attributes sought </li></ul>
  16. 16. THE FULL PACKAGE <ul><li>“ it’s the full package which we are looking for . You can have the best academic record in the world but if you can’t hold a conversation in an interview then that’s no good. So, specifically we are looking for communication skills, motivation and drive, work ethic, ability to organise and plan; ability to work in teams, to use one’s own initiative, to present coherently and succinctly, passion for law and for this firm, business savvy / commercial awareness, and attention to detail. Showing a passion for the firm and making your application stand out are absolutely crucial.” (Graduate Recruitment Officer, Large Corporate) </li></ul><ul><li>What should be the role of Legal Education? Simply informing students that this is what firms are looking for or do we have a role to help them put together this ‘package’? Is the package a collection of teachable skills or more intangible habitus or attributes? </li></ul>
  17. 17. THE VACATION SCHEME <ul><li>Crucial part of a Firm’s assessment of a potential candidate for a training contract. </li></ul><ul><li>Highly structured: Designed to test the candidate and give a realistic insight. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ The Vacation scheme itself lasts a week during which they’ll be involved in a wide range of activities .... They don’t just sit and photocopy documents, they do as much as we can allow them to do. We also don’t hide them from clients ..... “ (Graduate Recruitment, National Multi-Departmental) </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. CAPACITY TO ‘FIT’ WITHIN A FIRM <ul><li>“ We’re really looking for people who are happy to get involved – the more involved they are, the stronger their report will be. It’s about finding people who want to be part of the firm and who show that they want to be part of it, and all its activities, including the extra-curricular ones. We’re looking for people who get excited about what we do. (Graduate Recruitment, National Multi-Departmental) </li></ul>
  19. 19. NEGOTIATING INFORMAL SPACE <ul><li>sometimes they don’t realise that when they’re out socially with the trainees, the trainees will have a view on people who are about to possibly enter the firm, and people who are just so arrogant or perhaps lacking in judgment, trainees will pass comment back, to say ‘I think you should know this.’ So although they believe they’re all in this young person band, they don’t realise the trainees are actually reporting to the firm, they are their employer, the firm’s their employer, and as such they are keen to make sure that those coming in, the next generation, are the right people (Grad Recruitment, National Multi-Dept.) </li></ul>
  20. 20. HOW CAN (AND SHOULD) LEGAL EDUCATION RESPOND? <ul><li>Legal Education and the Profession: Hunt Review; Government Employability Agenda </li></ul><ul><li>50% of students do not enter the profession; but the initial motivation is to enter the legal profession </li></ul><ul><li>Our data (and other studies) suggests that entry to the legal profession is linked to a range of factors associated with a student’s socio-economic and educational background. </li></ul>
  21. 21. EMPLOYABILITY SKILLS <ul><li>“ For many employers a 2.1 degree was the entry qualification. Increasingly, this needed to be accompanied by a range of soft skills with considerable attention paid to interpersonal and communication skills” (Morley et al., 2006: 74) </li></ul><ul><li>Communication Skills can be taught in a range of ways. But other ‘soft skills’? </li></ul><ul><li>See the “full package” above. It’s not just a question of demonstrating this in an application form, but in the intensive and competitive ‘crucible’ of a FORMAL VS. </li></ul>
  22. 22. HOW CAN LEGAL EDUCATION RESPOND? <ul><li>Gaps in Knowledge: Failure to attempt to secure legal work experience; failure to understand what firms are looking for (e.g. Importance of ‘commercial awareness). </li></ul><ul><li>Relatively simple to equip students with this information. Need to think about ‘when’; and moreover whether this ‘information’ can be introduced in ways which develops other skills of research and critical thinking? </li></ul><ul><li>Developing Identity? Is this possible? Is this our role? </li></ul>
  23. 23. ACQUIRING HABITUS/DEVELOPING EMPLOYABILITY SKILLS <ul><li>the durable ways of `speaking, walking and thereby of feeling and thinking' required to enact the field. Bourdieu (1990: 70); products of their backgrounds and histories (1990: 56) </li></ul><ul><li>Bourdieu(1984: 255-6) on the `easy life' for those with appropriate habitus for a field </li></ul><ul><li>Bourdieu notes, `only in imaginary experience (in the fairytale, for example) which neutralizes the sense of social realities does the social world take the form of a universe of possibles equally possible for any possible subject.' Bourdieu, (1990: 68). </li></ul>
  24. 24. PLAYING THE GAME? <ul><li>I think [students] are increasingly savvy now in that they know, and we’re very open about it, the role of the week or two’s placement in our recruitment policy, that even from the way they dress, or the way they conduct themselves, the way they feel they need to stand out in a group environment. It’s a bit like Big Brother, actually, in that sense that they’ve worked [it] out … If nothing, our job is a bit of a game anyway. To some extent, if you can play the game that’s actually quite good. (Partner, Large Corporate) </li></ul><ul><li>But do all students recognise the rules of the game, let alone are they capable of playing and winning by those rules? </li></ul>
  25. 25. LEARNING AND TEACHING STRATEGIES <ul><li>Stand alone Credit Carrying Module </li></ul><ul><li>PDP: Enables students to reflect on skills, achievements and goals in structured way (see e.g. Bloxham and Cerevkova (2007; East, 2006): I.e. Opportunity for post-92 students to draw on paid employment </li></ul><ul><li>Early Warning Sessions: Realism v. Aspiration </li></ul><ul><li>Supporting Careers Service talks with academic research and critical reflection. </li></ul><ul><li>Broader Interventions: Enhancing Employability in Law Schools </li></ul>
  26. 26. LAWYERS IN SOCIETY <ul><li>15 Credit Second Year elective Module </li></ul><ul><li>Aimed to integrate the development of students’ academic skills of analysis, research, writing and theoretical engagement with a concern for their future careers. </li></ul><ul><li>Assessment: Formative and Summative </li></ul><ul><li>Topics included: Developing Legal Professional Identity: Law School and Beyond; Diversity in the Legal Professions: Gender, Class and Ethnicity; Law in the High Street: A Dying Breed? ; Commercial Legal Practice: Mega-Law in the Global Field; Post-Legal Services Act Marketplace; Lawyers in Society: Key Lessons for Research and Practice. </li></ul><ul><li>Evaluation suggests that the students found the module helpful, there was also some sober reflection about the challenges facing those seeking access to the profession. </li></ul>
  27. 27. CONCLUSIONS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION <ul><li>Kennedy – Training for the Hierarchy / Larson – Professional Socialisation: Is it possible to equip our students with the resources they need to enter the profession without uncritically reproducing existing Professional Identities? </li></ul><ul><li>Liberal Law Degree without Vocational Connections? Could such an ‘ideal’ type fail non-traditional students? </li></ul><ul><li>Habitus: Instinctive not taught. Should our strategies be directed more towards giving students appropriate guidance and creating spaces? </li></ul><ul><li>How honest are we with our students and applicants about the competition they face; particularly in terms of A-levels? </li></ul>
  28. 28. REFERENCES <ul><li>Bloxham, S. and Cerevkova, A. (2007) ‘Reflective Learning, Skills Development and Careers Management Online- An Evaluation of a First Year Law Module’ 1 Journal of Information, Technology and Law </li></ul><ul><li>Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction (London, Routledge) </li></ul><ul><li>Bourdieu, P. (1990) The Logic of Practice (Cambridge, Polity Press) </li></ul><ul><li>East, R. (2006) ‘A progress report on progress files: The experience of one higher education institution’ 6 Active Learning in Higher Education 160-171 </li></ul><ul><li>Francis, A. and Sommerlad, H. (2009) ‘ Access to legal work experience and its role in the (re)production of legal professional identity’ 16(1) International Journal of the Legal Profession 63-86 </li></ul><ul><li>Hunt, Lord (2009) The Hunt Review of Legal Services , London, The Law Society </li></ul><ul><li>Kennedy, D. (1998) ‘Legal Education as Training for Hierarchy’ in D. Kairys (ed.), The Politics of Law: A Progressive Critique (New York, Basic Books </li></ul><ul><li>Larson, M. (1977) The Rise of Professionalism: A sociological analysis (London, University of California Press) </li></ul><ul><li>Light, G. and Cox, R (2001) Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The Reflective Professional (Paul Chapman Publishing, London) </li></ul><ul><li>Morley, L., Eraut, M., Aynsley, S., MacDonald, D. & Shepherd, J. (2006) Needs of Employers and Related Organisations for Information about Quality and Standards of Higher Education , Report to HEFCE by the University of Sussex School of Education. </li></ul><ul><li>Prosser, M. and Trigwell, K. (1999) Understanding Learning and Teaching: The Experience of Higher Education (SH RE/Open University Press, Buckingham) </li></ul><ul><li>Reay, D., David, M. and Ball, S. (2005) Degrees of Choice: social class, race and gender in higher education (Stoke on Trent, Trentham Books) </li></ul>