Don’t be misled – employers continue to set great store by a top law degree.

The results of the latest Global Employability Survey reported by the Gazette last week offer some interesting messages – employers value a good degree, but they value even more a high element of specialisation, hand-in-hand with professional experience.

This is timely research. As we all know, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has just closed the second consultation on the future of legal education and the introduction of a Solicitors Qualifying Examination. Initially, the SRA’s position was that those taking the SQE would not be required to have a degree. However, they have since revised their thinking. They now suggest that a degree or equivalent will be a prerequisite for taking the SQE and qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales.

Why the change of heart? The responses to the first SQE consultation were damning. It is clear that employers expect and require their solicitors to be graduates, with the associated skills and learning. Last week’s survey bore this out – employers are looking for rounded individuals with the right blend of academic and practical experience.

Employers want and expect their solicitors to have degrees – and good degrees at that – but they are discerning and will look closely at the skills embedded within degree courses. An effective solicitor knows the law in their specialist area and also how to apply it in their client’s best interests.

This reinforces the need to give our students the skills necessary to practice; embedding those skills in a law degree provides added value to students and in turn increases their employability.

Students mature while undertaking independent focused study at degree level. One of the joys of teaching such students is seeing them grow in their knowledge, skills and confidence as they navigate their way through their education.

The learning outcomes for law degrees at Nottingham Law School include demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of fundamental, substantive areas of law. Students acquire an understanding of theories, concepts, values and principles within institutional, social, financial, national and international contexts. They learn to apply their knowledge and understanding of the law to produce reasoned solutions to complex problems. They come face to face with ‘real people’ in our Legal Advice Centre and similar settings, applying what they have learned. This is what employers want.

Studying for a degree is more than this, though. Students learn the skills they need to grow as individuals and practitioners, something recognised throughout the profession as vital for success. By the end of their law degrees, students are able to manage their own learning, reflect critically on their knowledge and understanding, identify issues to research independently, and have the ability to raise and answer cogently questions about law and legal systems.

They have the ability to prioritise and initiate their own work; manage and complete projects efficiently and in accordance with relevant deadlines; and they have developed the oral, written and listening skills essential to contributing effectively at work. They also recognise that they must be able to adapt flexibly, and with an understanding of changing environments. All of these skills are inherent in law graduates and they are highly valued by employers.

Practitioners are inundated with applications from those wanting to work as paralegals and solicitors, and the selection process is rigorous. Employers need a way to shortlist which is based on something they understand, the value of which they recognise. They understand degrees and the associated ‘graduateness’ that a degree qualification signifies – and this helps them decide who to take forward to the next stage of recruitment.  

For candidates, the confidence and worldly awareness gained on their journey to achieving a good degree, where academic and practical skills have been intertwined, mean they have the wherewithal to demonstrate effectively their value to any prospective employer.

Helen Hudson is head of legal development at Nottingham Law School, part of Nottingham Trent University