Where do all the law graduates go?

01 Nov 11:00 by Sally-Maree Herlihy

Here at Laurence Simons we specialise in In-house legal search, however, we are always keen to learn and see what the facts and statistics tell us. Associate Researcher Sally-Maree takes a look at the Law Society’s 2017 report and what it can tell us about the future of the UK’s legal minds. 

The number of trainee registrations recorded in the UK were just over a third of the total number of class of 2017 law graduates. One third. This poses a very interesting question: where on earth do the other two thirds of the graduates go? The UK Law Society’s annual report outlines the stats and gives us insight into the exact figures. In 2017 there were 15, 896 graduates versus 5,719 trainee registrations. Are the other 10, 177 law graduates just wandering the streets, searching for a new purpose in life? Are they venturing into new sectors or are they heading back to university to start all over again? Trying to find an answer to this question proves extremely difficult. I know, I did the research! According to the University of Cambridge, alternate careers for law graduates can be eclectic. They can include administration, finance, commercial management, teaching and defence.  The good news for law graduates is that once they have completed their degree their career options remain wide open. A law graduate myself, I have a CV that includes full-time legal recruitment as well as ballet and drama teaching.  

So we know that the majority of law graduates do not go on to actually qualify, but where do the qualified lawyers end up? As of July 2017, the solicitors holding practising certificates (PCs) in the UK totalled 139, 624. The number of female PC holders exceeded the number of male PC holders for the first time at 50.1%. As a female law graduate, this makes me happy! However, as an in-house legal researcher, it makes me less happy to see that only 22.2% of total PC holders go on to work in in-house positions.  

Why is this? In-house is a fantastic path for lawyers to follow and if you like an excellent salary combined with an attractive work/life balance then why wouldn’t you want to go in-house? Is it because lawyers or law graduates are simply unaware of what an in-house career could look like? It certainly feels that way when comparing the wealth of information available on the PP route to the comparatively sparse information available on the in-house route. Perhaps private practice is the only way your eyes can be opened to the magical world of in-house. And yet, if you are a but a mere graduate faced with the looming spectrum of 30-40 years of PP drudgery, you may run for the hills before the journey even begins! I know personally that whilst at law school, even in Australia, the PP path was pushed heavily, and in-house was virtually never mentioned. What if in-house were held in the same regard to PP? Would the number of law graduates applying for traineeships increase? Maybe we will never know. 

So, regarding the question “where do all the law graduates go”, the answer seems to be: mostly not to practice law. Increased promotion of the in-house path could mean that we see more budding law graduates go on to qualify and practice as solicitors. If you are a law graduate who is now working in private practice or a student wondering what the future may hold, then exploring the in-house sector is something that may completely change your view on what it means to be a lawyer. Speaking with someone who knows the in-house market, what it is about and what opportunities are out there could inspire you to completely alter the course of your career.