Lauren Reid: Lack of Meaningful Support a Hurdle That Can’t Be Overcome

Lauren Reid at her graduation, June 2012Lauren Reid graduated from the University of Edinburgh in June 2012 with an Honours degree in Scots Law. Although well over a hundred students graduated that day, two things set Lauren apart from most celebrating their achievements that day.

Firstly, to make it to her graduation, Lauren overcame many more hurdles than faced by most undergraduate law students at the University’s prestigious law school. 

Most undergraduates at Edinburgh are the children of parents who have themselves been to University. Lauren is the first of her family to even finish six years of secondary education. 

Many students are from high achieving or fee-paying schools. Few of Lauren’s contemporaries at her state High School went to University and even fewer finished their degrees. 

Most students at Edinburgh are supported by well-off parents. Lauren lived at home, worked part-time during term and full-time during holidays, and was reliant on a full student loan and additional bursaries for low-income students from the Scottish Government and the University. 

But one other thing sets Lauren aside from many of her fellow graduates. She will not be taking the next step to qualification as a lawyer. Not because she isn’t able enough: her achievements at University show she is. Not because she doesn’t want to: her ambition to work in law has only grown stronger through her time at University. She cannot become a lawyer because she and her family can’t afford to pay for the required professional training.

Reflecting on her ambitions, Lauren says:

The defining point of my career choice was a week’s work experience during 5th year of High School which was organised by the University…I spent time with an Edinburgh-based criminal defence firm, shadowed the work of in-house solicitors for Standard Life, spent a day in the Faculty of Advocates and shadowed a Judge from the Edinburgh High Court. This week inspired me to really pursue a career in the law and the people I met were so encouraging to myself and other students from similar backgrounds that the legal career door was open to us all. 

But it turns out the door to a legal career was not as open as Lauren was led to believe. To qualify as a lawyer, she must first obtain a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice. This course costs over £6,500, of which the Scottish Government is prepared to lend students around half. She must also support herself during the year of study and the Scottish Government has refused to extend to DPLP students the student loans for living costs that Lauren relied on to get through her law degree. And she has no guarantee of a job at the end of the course. For Lauren, the proposition is a non-starter, as she explains:  

At approximately £13,000 [for fees and living costs] it is not financially viable. Not only is it a financial burden but it is also too great a financial risk. Even if my family were able to create the funds through a house remortgage or loan, even then there are no guarantees that I would actually find a traineeship before the expiry date on the DPLP. 

Lauren’s story is a shining example of what can be achieved by students from less well-off backgrounds where adequate student support gives them opportunities taken for granted by middle-class students.

But it is also an example of where the Scottish Government’s unwillingness to provide meaningful student support to DPLP students has created a massive financial hurdle that excludes some of the best and brightest from entering the legal profession solely because their parents can’t afford it.  It is a hurdle that Lauren, and many others like her, cannot overcome.  

To Lauren’s credit, her ambitions remain undimmed: 

My plans are now to pursue alternative careers in order to save money to return to a legal one in the future. 

Given Lauren’s record of achievement against the odds, no-one would bet against her achieving her ambitions eventually. But it seems perverse that the Scottish Government’s approach to funding this compulsory professional course means Lauren, once again, will have to fight to achieve what others take for granted.

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