The Pathways to Law programme has been running for 15 years in partnership with leading universities and with over 100 employers supporting our work in that time.

We know that our programme has a positive impact on the young people who participate – our data from the Higher Education Access Tracker (HEAT) demonstrates this. For example, of students that go on to study at university, they are more likely to attend a research-intensive university (73%) and are more likely to study law (+7%), than those who applied for our programme and did not get a place. We also know that of the most recently graduated group (2019/2020 programme) 28% are working in the legal profession already.

Alongside these numbers, we decided to find out more about the specific stories and career destinations of alumni from our earlier programmes. By surveying a wide spread of alumni dating back to our 2007/8 inaugural cohort, we’ve gained some useful insights and individual stories from across the last 15 years.

Have the students ended up pursuing a legal career? And was it straightforward?

We reached out to around 2,800 alumni who participated in the programme between 2007 and 2017. We heard from 12% of this group (324 alumni) who responded to share their experience since being on the programme. Results were overwhelmingly positive across all respondents, regardless of their career path.​ The value of experiencing a sector and being able to make an informed choice is evident and specifically cited throughout many of the qualitative comments. ​

“Without a doubt, I would not be where I am today without Pathways to Law. Not only did it give me access to invaluable connections with the legal profession, but it gave me the confidence to believe that I was capable of entering a career in law.” Pathways to Law alumni

The results were split almost 50/50 between those who are now working in law and those who aren’t, giving us an optimistic outlook that it is a career path many are choosing.

47% (138) of respondents confirmed they’re working in law across large multi-national firms, Barrister Chambers, smaller regional players and in-house legal teams. Many of the firms quoted are long-term partners of the Sutton Trust and ones that students will have interacted with on their Pathways programmes, providing support in the form of work experience placements, career insight events and funding.

These include DLA Piper, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Clifford Chance, Freeths LLP, Irwin Mitchell, Fragomen LLP, White & Case, Norton Rose Fulbright and DWF LLP – all who currently have multiple alumni in their workforces. Over 50 other firms or chambers are cited, including Eversheds, Mischon de Reya and Hogan Lovells. For in-house legal careers employers ranged from the Crown Prosecution Service to Experian PLC  to smaller boutique companies.

“My career is greater than I ever anticipated it could be. I am working for a boutique family law firm in Mayfair dealing with UHNW [Ultra High Net Worth] clients…I am a member of the Resolution cohabitation committee. We have submitted proposals to the government about cohabitation reform. We are also advising the Labour party about including cohabitation reform in their upcoming manifesto.” Pathways to Law alumni

All of those who’d been working for 2+ years agree that they have progressed since starting out. 36% have been in the sector for more than 6 years, and most common job titles include Senior Associate, Managing Associate, Senior Legal Counsel, and Partner, with 5 working as established Barristers.

“Pathways to Law contextualised the career path for me. I did not grow up with people in this field so I did not understand the process of becoming a solicitor or what the role actually entailed. It…helped me secure a mini-pupillage and also helped me with applications and being able to attend talks. The field of law is still however extremely nepotistic, I do think Pathways to Law helps make a dent in this status quo.” Pathways to Law alumni (2012-13)

What about those who aren’t in the legal sector?

Of the 53% of survey respondents who are not working in law, their most common career destinations have been the public sector, education and financial / professional services. Despite not directly working in law, several cited the valuable insights and skills gained through the programme as supporting their current career.

“Still remember it now, it was very helpful. I do have to apply law and work within law/regulations as a social worker so my experience was valuable to aid this” Pathways to Law alumni (2009-10)

One of the aims across our programmes is to equip students with ‘informed choice’. It’s clear from the responses (45% of this non-law group) that many felt their experience played a valuable role in learning that the legal sector was not the best fit for them.

“It was an insightful opportunity to experience life in a law firm, meet a variety of people, receive personalised guidance from the instructor, and ultimately enable me to make a clearer and more well-informed decision on my future.” Pathways to Law alumni

We know that along with the successes of the Pathways to Law programme, there is still work to be done in the sector. 29% of responses relating to reasons for not continuing on the path to a career in law cited the cost to train, the difficulty in securing training contracts, or finding funding opportunities. This is a widely acknowledged issue being actively tackled by law firms and third sector organisations. At the Trust, we advocate for both the removal of financial barriers and for open and transparent recruitment practices using contextual recruitment where possible.

To help address the issue around gaining competitive work experience once our students are at university level, we also run our Careers Plus programme; specifically targeted to provide additional work experience opportunities and tailored skill sessions to help increase the employability of our young alumni pursuing a career in law.

“It is one of the best programmes around. It has been vital to be getting into a good university, undertaking work experience…and gaining confidence.” Pathways to Law alumni (2013-14)

Many of our alumni continue to support our work in improving access to the sector – including Molly Lewis, Sutton Trust alum now working as an Associate at Freshfields and a PRIME Board Member:

“The results of this survey are a timely reminder of the positive impact that initiatives like the Pathways to Law programme can have on the aspirations and outcomes of young people from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds. To see that 47% of those surveyed are now working in the law, with 36% of those sitting in senior roles, is an incredible achievement. While the legal sector as a whole has some way to go in widening access to the profession, those firms who have partnered with the Sutton Trust and other social mobility organisations like PRIME over the last 15 years are clearly reaping the benefits.

It is also heartening to hear from those Pathways to Law participants who elected not to pursue a career in law. Providing as many young people from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds as possible with the knowledge and experience to empower them to make informed choices about their future career paths is the goal that both PRIME and the Sutton Trust are striving towards.”

Watch our 15 years of Pathways to Law celebration video to see how far the programme has come.

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