Britain’s top female judge has warned that the growth of unpaid internships is a “grim” and “very gloomy” trend that is undermining efforts to improve diversity in the legal profession – and questioned why the number of law schools is growing while the number of jobs is declining. This supports the stories from many of Graduate Fog’s users who are finding it extremely tough to get their career in law started – having spent tens of thousands of pounds on gaining their degree – and other industry insiders who have warned previously that legal degrees are a £60,000 con for many.

In a speech in London, Baroness Hale, the deputy president of the Supreme Court, said the latest figures revealed a “startling leap” in the proportion of privately and Oxbridge educated lawyers. She said she was concerned that the “precipitous decline” in legal aid funding caused by Government cuts was forcing “diverse and socially mobile lawyers” from the profession as the “combination of a high-cost education and a low-paid career” became “more and more” of a deterrent. Lady Hale said:

“One of the causes of this, apart from all the networks that their parents have, is the prevalence of work experience and internships in today’s recruitment criteria.

“Diverse candidates find it much harder to get these, partly because they don’t have the contacts and partly because they can’t afford to work without pay for any length of time. All of this bothers me hugely.”

The  Yorkshire-born and state-educated judge, who remains the only woman on the Supreme Court bench, added that what was happening “was the opposite of everything that many people of my generation hoped for” and came as a blow after previously successful efforts to widen access to the legal profession.

Her comments came at the launch of a report on social mobility and diversity by the Young Legal Aid Lawyers group, warning that a “proliferation of unpaid work experience” is creating a “barrier” to social mobility.

Lady Hale also she was disturbed by the “greatly increased” number of law schools, law graduates and young people qualifying as barristers and solicitors at a time when the number of jobs was going down. She asked:

“What is the point of all our outreach work with schools.. and similar initiatives by the professions.. if we tempt more and more young people to aspire to a legal career that most of them can never have?”

Lady Hale also repeated her call for greater female representation in the highest ranks of the judiciary, saying that it would stifle the “casual sexism and racism” still afflicting the bench.


What do you think of Lady Hale’s comments – do you agree that there are problems with the entry pathway into this profession? If you’re trying to become a lawyer, how are you getting on? Have you worked unpaid – or have you had to pass up vital opportunities because you couldn’t afford to work for free?

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