From interactive workshops to feedback on CVs and cover letters, the breadth of application advice available is growing. However, an increase in availability does not equal an increase in accessibility. I have become more aware of people offering advice on Training Contract and Vacation Scheme applications for a fee. I will be referring to this as the monetisation of the application process. That individuals are paying for these services suggests a demand that needs to be met. Conversely, what happens to those who cannot afford this advantage?
The case for monetisation
Entering the legal industry is incredibly competitive. This has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Accessing advice from those who have successfully passed through this process can only be advantageous. This opinion is evidently held by hundreds who pay for this potential advantage that not only involves learning new information, but also increasing self-confidence. Confidence developed through embarking on mock interviews and completing case study examples whilst receiving feedback is invaluable. There is a space for this in the market and it is not unconscionable to fill this space. It is a business-minded approach that shows commercial awareness and the ability to take the initiative.
The preparation of services provided takes a lot of time and effort. This business model is not dissimilar to tutoring in general education. The idea of tutoring is entrenched in society so why not in the legal industry? The service may require reviewing applications, compiling feedback, planning presentations, and more. It makes logical sense that this is compensated accordingly. Especially as during this pandemic, thousands have faced extreme financial difficulties. Creating this new source of income could be the difference to being able to afford bills and rent.
The case against monetisation
On the other side of the ‘Covid coin’, those looking to make use of these services may also be struggling financially. This creates situations where people cannot afford it and feel unprepared as a result as they feel they are missing out on key information. This is likely where people suggest their services hold the key to obtaining a Training Contract or Vacation Scheme. Sometimes, the only credential held is being a future trainee solicitor with little to no experience within the industry. It is debatable whether this experience is enough to warrant payment. However, with the competitiveness and desperation to succeed, many pay to get any advantage they can.
The legal industry already holds a reputation as being elitist with the majority being from higher-income, private school backgrounds. In March 2020, Legal Cheek reported that only 46% of corporate law solicitors are state-educated. Encouraging these services arguably strengthens this elitism. Social mobility is eroded as where the information is advantageous, only wealthier individuals can afford it and therefore, enter the industry.
More generally, this monetisation adds to the overwhelming amount of resources already available. It may lead to many feeling unprepared no matter how much work they do. There is always more to read, learn, and practice. This potential psychological impact is just as important to consider.
So, should you use these services?
It is essential to do your research before making any monetary commitment.
It should be noted that costs differ drastically from provider to provider. I have seen services ranging from £10 for standalone sessions to £1000 for courses. Research free resources available such as mentoring schemes, podcasts, and newsletters. If you are unsure where to start, have a look at our Info and News page (https://www.legaldiversity.org/news). My favourites have been the LittleLaw email newsletters and STRIVE assessment centre practice questions.
Network on LinkedIn. I have found that fee-earners are usually happy to help and answer specific questions if they have the time. This is particularly true of future and current trainees who have so recently gone through the same application processes.
If deciding to pay for extra resources, respectfully challenge the provider. What does the price include? What experience do they have that warrants that price? Can they give you any guarantees or continued support if applications they help with are unsuccessful? What do they provide that is different from the free resources? What do you want from this experience and what type of service will be of most help?
Ultimately, the choice is yours. Just ensure it is an informed one!