The majority of students face debts on completion of an undergraduate degree. However, junior lawyers must also complete 1-2 years’ additional training on top with no guarantee of finding work immediately afterwards.
Trainees and students often have to pay a lot of money at the beginning of their careers simply to get them off the ground. Typically this is done with the expectation that salaries at a later stage will be far in excess of the debts incurred. Although often true, you should be aware that this outcome is not guaranteed. Before you agree to take on any debt, you should understand the costs involved, and research alternatives where possible.
Estimated cost of becoming a solicitor
The following is an illustration only and based upon the undergraduate degree (/GDL) /LPC full-time route. Figures change frequently. Be sure to check with your course providers and to budget your living expenses accordingly.
The Undergraduate Degree
For the average student embarking on a three-year undergraduate degree, tuition fees may be around £9,000 -£12,000, and potentially more for some universities.
Living expenses such as rent, food and bills must also be covered. An extremely modest estimation would be £6,000 per year. Over the three years of the course this gives a total of £18,000.
This makes the estimated cost of a three-year degree somewhere in the region of £27,000 – 30,000.
Following graduation, those taking the legal career path will be delaying potential graduate-level income for up to an average of two years. By the time a law student has graduated from law school, their contemporaries in alternative careers could be in established positions earning salaries higher than the Law Society minimum.
The cost of the GDL and LPC can vary. We’ve used figures based on typical full-time fees for institutions such as BPP or the College of Law . University Law Schools may however offer more competitive prices.
For our purposes, the GDL fees are £5,500 and LPC fees are £10,000.
Including living expenses of £6,000 pa, this brings the estimated total cost to:
- £46,000 for a law graduate
- £57,500 for a non-law graduate
Loans and repayment
Repayment of educational loans is in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Student Loan Company or the relevant bank. Bank repayments are likely to start in the region of 12 months following the completion of the LPC course and typically last over five years. The amount of the repayments will vary from loan to loan, but you can expect them to be over £200 a month and in some cases as high as £450 a month. Remember that banks are not benevolent organisations and will not have the same not-for-profit approach of the Student Loan Company.
Student Loan repayments tend to be less onerous and are means-tested. More details can be found at the Student Loan Company website.
For the two years of the Training Contract following the academic training, you may earn only the minimum trainee salary. As of 1 August 2009 , the minimum salary for trainee solicitors working in Central London is £18,590 pa. For trainees working elsewhere in England and Wales , it is £16,650 pa. Training contract salaries can however vary wildly between firms. At the very highest end, some City firms offer starting salaries in excess of £35,000 pa. Competition for places at these firms is intense and the number of applicants vastly outnumbers that of training contracts.
For those earning the average minimum training salary, monthly wages amount to around £1200 per month in London and £1100 per month elsewhere. This amount will have to cover loan repayments above, maintenance and living costs. You’ll also have other outgoings such as clothes for work and the (often hidden) costs of post-work entertainment.
Law schools offer a variety of scholarships and financial awards. It is worthwhile contacting them to enquire which are available and what the awarding criteria are. Local Authorities may also offer financial support. Visit www.direct.gov to contact your local authority and enquire what support is available. For further information see funding sources.
Remember that the full-time LPC or GDL are not the only routes to completing the academic stage of qualification. Law schools offer a variety of part-time courses, allowing you to work during the course and avoid the large initial payments and the build-up of fee-related debt. In addition, the various LPC and GDL providers charge varying levels of fees.
The ILEX route is also a valid route to qualification. It is not an ‘easy option’ and also takes a substantial amount of time and dedication. However, successfully qualifying via the ILEX route can largely bypass training fees.
The Big Picture
Law is a competitive career. It may seem that once the training contract is acquired, these worries will resolve themselves. This is not the case; the career is competitive at every level, whether newly qualified solicitor or partner. Throughout your career you will need to be resolute and pragmatic. Planning is essential; and acquiring these types of skills early can only help you. Be focused, realistic and clear-headed.
Don’t forget that the JLD helpline can provide more specific advice and can be contacted on 08000 856 131 . It’s confidential and anonymous and may be able to provide any assistance you need.
The JLD’s role
It is the JLD’s belief that the system whereby most trainees are required to incur considerable debt in order to start their legal careers is not acceptable. The cost becomes a way of filtering out those who can’t afford it. Mature students potentially face further challenges due to mortgages and family commitments.
The JLD will do everything it can to ensure students are in a position where they are in possession of the full facts relating to training and training contracts and to create a situation whereby it is not ‘normal’ for trainee solicitors to be buried beneath a mountain of debt. It provides a helpline, networking opportunities and careers events. The JLD’s former incarnation, the TSG , was also instrumental in establishing a minimum salary. The JLD today continues to lobby both the Law Society and the government for further positive change.
The JLD is a resource for your benefit. Contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.