Access and mobility


7.43     The limited availability of diversity data at present makes it difficult to generalise about trends across the sector. Data on solicitors and barristers show approximate gender parity in recruitment. BME entry to the professions is above population levels, but below the level of participation in the base graduate population. IP attorneys have historically been predominantly male, reflecting, particularly in the patent profession, the historic under-recruitment of women into science. Notaries are also predominantly male.

7.44     A number of challenges were identified by mature entrants who felt that they were disadvantaged in recruitment. They thought they were seen to be less malleable and more resistant to shaping into the employer’s image. They had competing commitments such as parental responsibility and they felt they were impeded in accessing pre-requisites to employment such as vacation schemes.

7.45     CILEx members, costs lawyers and licensed conveyancers are far more socially diverse occupations than barristers and solicitors; CILEx membership is also strongly skewed towards female entrants. The influx into these occupations of graduates who cannot get into the barristers’ and solicitors’ professions might reduce their social diversity. If those graduates see these roles essentially as stepping stones to other ‘more prestigious’ licensed titles, that might also cause perturbations in the training market beyond.

7.46     The steps taken by the LSB to obtain diversity data from the regulated professions are welcomed, but this also needs to be matched by a better range and quality of data on participation in LSET (this is discussed further, below).

Equality and diversity in entry

7.47     There is concern, and sometimes anger, among those who have invested much time and money in the initial stages of education and then been unable to find qualifying employment within the regulated sector. Respondents mentioned a lack of initial information about risks and career options; the potential for unfair treatment in recruitment; being left in a paralegal limbo; potential for exploitation, and a lack of recognition of prior experience.

7.48     Cost and bottlenecks obviously have implications for access, diversity and social mobility. Despite the good intentions of many employers, there are distinct barriers to entry. Three overlapping barriers to access in this respect were identified in Chapter 6: reliance on A-levels and tariff scores; access to work experience, and the focus on recruitment from elite universities. The current buyer’s market may mean that employers are more averse to taking unnecessary recruitment ‘risks’, and prospective applicants who lack social and economic capital, may also be deterred by the risk of not succeeding.

7.49     A number of responses recognised the importance of diversity and demonstrated commitment to diversity initiatives. There has been limited evidence as to the amount of difference such initiatives actually make to the workplace (BSN data, for example, suggests improvements are apparent in diverse recruitment but not yet in progression). The commitment to proper evaluation of initiatives such as PRIME and the Pegasus Access Scheme is welcomed. Diversity and social mobility data on apprenticeships should be obtained and monitored.

7.50     A focus in existing schemes on attracting high achievers from non-traditional backgrounds into the elite universities may create a skewed approach to questions of social mobility, rather than necessarily putting resources into better enabling those non-traditional students who are already in the higher education system to break through into elite employment.

7.51      A number of ways of reducing regulatory burdens so as to open up opportunities are identified in Chapter 6: chiefly the use of contextual admission data; flexible education and training models, and access to good quality information. Commitments by the solicitors’ profession to widen access to work experience are to be welcomed and encouraged, but problems continue to exist in terms of the accessibility of placements, particularly as access at secondary school level appears to be becoming increasingly important to future career opportunities as a solicitor. The growth in unpaid internships also raises a set of different concerns about employers taking advantage of the difficult market for trainee applicants. Approved regulators should have formal guidance in place regarding the offering of internships.

Aptitude testing

7.52     There have been debates over the need additionally to assess skills and aptitude for legal practice. There is difficulty in distinguishing between the growing numbers of graduates and assessing the quality and consistency of outcomes at earlier stages of education. These difficulties have led to an interest in the potential of aptitude testing.

7.53     There was some support, particularly from younger lawyers, for such tests as a means of deterring those unlikely to succeed in qualifying from investing time, effort and finance in the LPC and BPTC. On the other hand there were concerns about the value of aptitude testing and its impact on diversity; and these are borne out by much of the literature. These issues have, for example, been acknowledged by the Bar so that the BCAT is explicitly intended to filter out only the least able, rather than positively to test suitability for a successful career at the Bar. One respondent organisation suggested a voluntary aptitude test as a means of educating entrants about the realities of practice.[1]

7.54     It is not clear at this stage that the benefits of aptitude-based admission testing outweigh the costs and potential risks, and this report calls for a moratorium on their development until further research on the BCAT becomes available.

AP(E)L and fast track entry

7.55     Some respondents suggested that existing LSET frameworks do not adequately provide credit for prior experience, whether acquired in the legal sector or outside it, with, for example, substantial reliance being apparently placed on A-level results achieved decades beforehand. On the other hand, some younger entrants considered that some form of prior experience was itself an invisible recruitment criterion, privileging older entrants. Transparent criteria for recognising and assessing prior experience and qualifications should be put in place by all approved regulators.

7.56     At present the sector demonstrates a complex mix of formal exemption procedures for specified qualifications (Chapter 4, Annex I) and a number of fast-track means of entry:

  • the GDL as a substitute for the QLD;
  • the intensive course for intending registered trade mark attorneys as a substitute for the Professional Certificate in Trade Mark Law and Practice;
  • the BTT and QLTS primarily for overseas lawyers seeking to transfer into the Bar or solicitors’ profession;
  • the short form LPC for BPTC graduates.

7.57     The numbers involved in most of these processes are small, and there are no obvious reasons why they should not continue. Concerns have historically been raised about the diversity impact of the GDL on recruitment into the LPC/BPTC, and it is recommended that the diversity effects of the GDL should be monitored.

7.58     The development of a robust system of outcomes and standards, co-ordinated between the professions, would facilitate the accreditation of prior experience and formal learning against those outcomes and increase the fairness and transparency of exemption and fast-track arrangements.

Mobility between routes and professions

7.59     A perceived weakness of the current system is poor mobility in terms of transfer between professions, or parts of a profession, dual qualification, mobility between full and partial titles, and partial qualifications under EU free movement provisions.

7.60     A system should not create unnecessary barriers to pursuing a career unless those barriers have a risk-based justification. Horizontal mobility is currently limited by lack of intermediate stages of qualification for employment. Mobility may become an increasingly critical issue if the market becomes more fluid. There may be significant equality and diversity effects in restricting vertical mobility between the smaller and larger professions, and in unduly restricting paralegal access to regulated occupations.

7.61     Available methods of transfer between regulated routes and professions were mapped in Chapter 4 (Annex I). This exercise reveals that they do not neatly relate to each other and lack transparency and currency. The rationale for accreditation or refusal of accreditation is not always clear. There is a lack of information regarding numbers seeking or obtaining transfer by various routes.

7.62     The harmonisation of outcomes and levels of qualification would facilitate greater clarity and dialogue about horizontal transfer. While it would be wrong to assume that transfers will necessarily be from the smaller to larger professions, the BTT and QLTS demonstrate that outcomes can be satisfied by a rigorous, assessment-based process, and, in principle, these models could be extended to manage the range of domestic transfers as well.

Information needs

7.63     A recurring theme of respondents has been the extent to which lawyers, students and consumers lack information – or at least readily accessible information – about LSET.

7.64     Information that exists, but is inaccessible to young people considering a career in the law will be of limited utility. Information presented by vocational course providers, or representative bodies might not be trusted by some users because those institutions may be suffering a conflict of interests in providing accurate information about numbers of training and qualifying places. The difficulty of searching for some information may be too high. When employers confine their recruitment to known ‘brands’ of educational provider, there may be a corresponding lack of information about other educational providers and novel approaches that might suit that employer.[2] Information gaps and uncertainties invariably create or support mis-information and deliver advantages to entrants with prior connections in the sector or with access to developed or ‘inside-track’ careers advice, vacation schemes and internships.

7.65     Data from students and younger lawyers suggested that there was a strong desire for greater transparency about the cost of training, the prospects for employment and the various pathways and training options available across the sector as a whole. This would provide greater clarity for entrants and employers. Young lawyers also had very little information about paralegal qualifications and careers.

7.66     The requirements for HEIs in particular to provide key information sets on student satisfaction and other measures, creates a form of market-based incentive within the education system. The lack of an equivalent set of data on the performance of vocational providers, including student satisfaction, pass rates and data on the diversity profile of the institution or centre, is potentially inhibiting the development of a properly transparent and competitive market in vocational training.

7.67     The absence of diversity data at the vocational stage also limits the potential to track progression and performance consistently through the LSET system and into employment for research and equality impact purposes.

7.68     Whilst it is not a function of regulation as such, there is also an important coordinating function that needs to be addressed in terms of advertising, monitoring, and evaluating the range of diversity initiatives for entry into the sector.


[1] The Women Lawyers Division (previously the Association of Women Solicitors).

[2] A number of responses indicated that lawyers, including some employers, were not well-informed about the current LSET sector, including availability of part-time routes, sandwich and exempting degrees, whether LPC or BPTC providers offer pro bono opportunities, and so on.