Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association endorses Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession

The Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association (SYLA) yesterday issued a press release strongly supporting the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession.

SYLA’s statement agrees with CFALP that:

Allowing Diploma/ PEAT1 students access to loan funding for living and maintenance costs would be a simple and obvious first step.

SYLA also discuss the need for longer term reform of the route to qualification as a lawyer, emphasising that the profession shares with the Scottish Government the responsibility of ensuring that the legal profession is open to bright students from less advantaged backgrounds.

SYLA’s full statement is reproduced below:

The Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association (SYLA) fully supports the aims and efforts of the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession (CFALP) and welcomes the forthcoming debate at the Scottish Parliament on 20 September 2012 on the issue of fair access to the legal profession.

The new support scheme for students on the Diploma in Legal Practice (DPLP)/PEAT1 caps loans at £3,400 for all applicants. This is considerably short of the current average of £6,000 diploma fees and there is no funding in place for living costs. This leaves diploma students having to self-fund, rely on family assistance or turn to a bank for a loan to cover the remaining fees and all living costs. In spite of the fact that the Scottish Government itself is of the view that a student requires a minimum income of £7,250, calls to extend student loans for living costs to diploma students have been rebuffed.

The issues surrounding funding for the diploma and its ramifications for young lawyers have been of longstanding concern for the SYLA. When the changes to funding of the Diploma were announced in November, there was justified criticism from the SYLA and the profession at large over the lack of consultation in advance of the change and the lack of detail after its announcement about how the change would be implemented. Since this time the SYLA has engaged in a number of discussions with other bodies about how the current discrepancies between the route to qualification in Law and other professions, such as medicine, dentistry and architecture, can be addressed. Potential solutions to this issue may be the integration of the current undergraduate and post-graduate courses into one single 5 year degree or the availability of a short, but intensive, PEAT1 course as is available from some LPC providers in England and Wales.

While an undergraduate academic degree followed by a mandatory postgraduate professional diploma (PEAT1) remains the route that the vast majority will follow into the Law, the Scottish Government and the profession at large has a responsibility to ensure that bright students from less advantaged backgrounds are not deterred from embarking upon a legal career for purely financial reasons. Allowing Diploma/PEAT1 students access to loan funding for living and maintenance costs would be a  simple and obvious first step. Further discussion on how best to achieve excellence in an efficient and effective Scottish legal education system is a crucial debate that government, the legal profession, universities and schools should engage in further going forward.

There needs to be fair access to the profession for all, regardless of financial background. It is in the interests of Scottish society at large to have a representative legal profession. This can not be the case if qualification as a solicitor is reserved for those of privilege.

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