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Is it wrong for law firms to look at A-levels and GCSEs and have cut-offs?

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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    or the law of railway level crossings.
    I know a person who worked at the Law Commission this year. They were assigned to the level crossings project.

    Back on topic: I think that it seems unfair purely because of the point made by the OP: at the age of 16, one may not really have an idea of where they want to be in years to come. I know that at my old school, I was told that it was important for me to get at least 5 A-Cs and thereafter the world was my oyster. There was no talk about going to Oxbridge or becoming a lawyer - they were things which exceptional people went on to do. There was absolutely no encouragement to exceed the bare minimum in terms of academic success.

    The attitude outlined above continued into college - where a select few students were assigned a tutor who would mentor them and prepare them for applications to Oxbridge. The rest of us were left to our own devices.

    With this in mind, I think it bloody unfair that I (or anyone for that matter) be judged on exams they took when they were 16. I know many lawyers who did not know what they wanted to do when they were 16. What is different about them? Why were they allowed to enjoy their childhood and leave the serious stuff (like deciding what to do for a living) until they had grown up a bit? Well, the answer, I think, is that the game has changed.

    Years ago, gaining access to the legal professional was largely about whether or not you could go to Uni. There was also a more favourable vacancy to applicant ratio. Nowadays, with the shear number of largely similar candidates, firms and chambers have to look at anything which distinguishes them. I suppose I am partly blaming the very policy which allowed me to receive a university education - what a double edged sword that turned out to be.

    Despite this, I do think that some firms and chambers take a more holistic approach. This may apply to some practice areas more than others, but in law I think there are certainly other important elements to a person other than academic brilliance.
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    (Original post by Norton1)
    I assume you've hired people that really haven't worked out before. How much would you say they cost you as oppose to someone that was absolutely right? Do you think you'd be more likely to get the right candidate through interviewing more widely?
    The principal cost of failure is the cost of the supervisors' time invested in them and that is difficult to quantify. In salary terms, we don't lose a lot on trainees.

    If we don't think a candidate is good enough we don't hire. That hasn't been a problem for a few years now. Over the years our recruitment procedures have become more elaborate and many more people participate in the decision-making. Nevertheless, problems, role playing, social situations and interview will only take you so far. We still get some lemons.

    Casting the net wider, won't help. What you need is a deeper insight into talents and abilities. You cannot assume that someone with a law degree (and possibly LPC) has an ability to research independently, to reason incrementally, and to put in hard work.

    For a fair number of trainees, research means phoning a call centre worker at the Land Registry or bothering another partner with the question; many find it very difficult to combine two precedents or update an obsolete precedent, and an awful lot try to find away around doing a rotten but essential job given to them precisely because it is a rotten but essential job.
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
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    Thank you, that's very interesting and helpful.

    How do you think prospective trainees would best develop the skill to synthesise multiple precedents and the other talents and abilities you would see as important? You say the degree isn't a guarantor of this so are there extra curricular activities that would build these skills?
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    (Original post by InnerTemple)
    I know a person who worked at the Law Commission this year. They were assigned to the level crossings project.
    There seems to have been quite a lot of slippage.

    Back on topic: I think that it seems unfair purely because of the point made by the OP: at the age of 16, one may not really have an idea of where they want to be in years to come. I know that at my old school, I was told that it was important for me to get at least 5 A-Cs and thereafter the world was my oyster. There was no talk about going to Oxbridge or becoming a lawyer - they were things which exceptional people went on to do. There was absolutely no encouragement to exceed the bare minimum in terms of academic success.

    The attitude outlined above continued into college - where a select few students were assigned a tutor who would mentor them and prepare them for applications to Oxbridge. The rest of us were left to our own devices.

    With this in mind, I think it bloody unfair that I (or anyone for that matter) be judged on exams they took when they were 16. I know many lawyers who did not know what they wanted to do when they were 16. What is different about them? Why were they allowed to enjoy their childhood and leave the serious stuff (like deciding what to do for a living) until they had grown up a bit? Well, the answer, I think, is that the game has changed.

    Years ago, gaining access to the legal professional was largely about whether or not you could go to Uni. There was also a more favourable vacancy to applicant ratio. Nowadays, with the shear number of largely similar candidates, firms and chambers have to look at anything which distinguishes them. I suppose I am partly blaming the very policy which allowed me to receive a university education - what a double edged sword that turned out to be.
    Exactly.

    Despite this, I do think that some firms and chambers take a more holistic approach. This may apply to some practice areas more than others, but in law I think there are certainly other important elements to a person other than academic brilliance.
    My firm doesn't apply any strict GCSE or A level filter but A levels (and GCSE English) are still in the mix at final selection stage.

    Being a provincial firm, we do have a weapon in our armoury that the London firms don't. Why here? Failure to give a convincing answer supported by objective evidence to why you want to practise in one of the places we have offices, will see your application binned.
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    (Original post by Norton1)
    Thank you, that's very interesting and helpful.

    How do you think prospective trainees would best develop the skill to synthesise multiple precedents and the other talents and abilities you would see as important? You say the degree isn't a guarantor of this so are there extra curricular activities that would build these skills?
    I don't think ECs help. I think doing law from cases, monographs and journals rather than the textbook written by your lecturer does help.That isn't to decry textbooks but the material on most undergraduate courses comprises two elements, a basic overview of a topic and then an in depth study of the current controversies in the field. A lot of students no longer experience how those controversies have developed through the cases and academic writing but rather learn the controversy in the same way they learned the causes of WWI. As a result they don't have the need to synthesize sources to create their own narrative. They just have to learn someone else's narrative.
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)

    Being a provincial firm, we do have a weapon in our armoury that the London firms don't. Why here? Failure to give a convincing answer supported by objective evidence to why you want to practise in one of the places we have offices, will see your application binned.
    What sort of answers do you look for in that and are any particularly favoured?

    For example would someone who is moving back to the area having grown up there and moved away for university be seen as having stronger roots or vicea versa as they have lived there more recently?
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    I don't think ECs help. I think doing law from cases, monographs and journals rather than the textbook written by your lecturer does help.That isn't to decry textbooks but the material on most undergraduate courses comprises two elements, a basic overview of a topic and then an in depth study of the current controversies in the field. A lot of students no longer experience how those controversies have developed through the cases and academic writing but rather learn the controversy in the same way they learned the causes of WWI. As a result they don't have the need to synthesize sources to create their own narrative. They just have to learn someone else's narrative.
    As ever, very helpful and interesting. Thank you once more.
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    Most law firms never look beyond the classification of your degree and what university you got it from.
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    (Original post by Spaz Man)
    Most law firms never look beyond the classification of your degree and what university you got it from.
    I am afraid that simply isn't true.

    If you take the largest firms which recruit the most trainees and look at the range of universities from which they take trainees, then they will get many times the number of applicants from those universities as they have places.

    Although the list of the universities from which Lovells' trainees are drawn is overused, there are 28 British and Irish universities producing perhaps 6-8,000 law graduates and umpteen other graduates a year. Well over 1500 people apply each year and I suspect the vast majority of those applicants come from those 28 universities plus 6 or 7 others that are currently not represented in the list of trainees. Lovells recruits 75 trainees a year. If it was going on university alone, it could probably recruit those 75 from Oxford 2:1s or better and say to the Cambridge applicants "you should have gone somewhere better"


    For most firms recruiting there is little or no premium for having a first and where there is a premium that tends to be benefiting firsts from "lesser" universities.
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    For most firms recruiting there is little or no premium for having a first and where there is a premium that tends to be benefiting firsts from "lesser" universities.
    Would you say that a first from a "lesser" uni would allow you to compete against 2:1's from Oxbridge at a top city firm or top commercial/chancery chamber? From reading TSR, blogs and NQ's profiles at firms, it's getting really disheartening being at Surrey University, because they all say that without a degree from a RG, I stand very little chance of success.

    On topic, I completely agree that this arbitrary method of filtering is quite unfair. I done a BTEC at college, because a) I felt like I wanted to go into forensic science and b) I was told that they were equivalent to A levels. However, it seems quite unfair now that I will be filtered out from the top firms just because of my choices when I was 16.
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    (Original post by roh)
    What sort of answers do you look for in that and are any particularly favoured?

    For example would someone who is moving back to the area having grown up there and moved away for university be seen as having stronger roots or vicea versa as they have lived there more recently?
    We wouldn't regard either as better but we would be looking at the strength of the connection, though more as a plus point for an application rather than ranking candidates by strength of connection. Someone who grew up in an area from which his family came, but whose parents then moved away, would have a stronger connection than someone who was currently living in an area simply because of what looked like a parental short term career move e.g. an army posting.

    Not all connections necessarily arise from parents. People apply to follow partners. In that case the mobility of the partner may be relevant. You would be much more comfortable with someone following say, a teacher in a first appointment, than someone following a partner climbing a bank's or large retailer's recruitment ladder where the early years are likely to involve a lot of moving from city to city.

    Others have put down their own roots. People do want to stay where they have been to university. That is the only place they have ever been an adult, knowing the pubs, the clubs, and the best deli.
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    (Original post by zaliack)
    Would you say that a first from a "lesser" uni would allow you to compete against 2:1's from Oxbridge at a top city firm or top commercial/chancery chamber? From reading TSR, blogs and NQ's profiles at firms, it's getting really disheartening being at Surrey University, because they all say that without a degree from a RG, I stand very little chance of success.
    Please Google University of Surrey trainee solicitor LinkedIn and you might be less disheartened.
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    Law firms have a real problem. They receive hundreds of extremely similar applications for a small number of places. There is very little to differentiate those applications. The only difference between most candidates are academic grades, where the candidate went to university, what extra-curriculars they have and how they come across at interview. Most people will do pretty well on all four counts so it is difficult for firms to make a decision.

    I got nearly all A* at GCSE, four A grades at A-level and have an Oxbridge degree. Law firms like this because it proves two things: first that I am intelligent, and second that I am a hard worker. Of course there are many who don't have these grades but are still much better lawyers than I am. The problem for law firms is how to identify these people.

    You could identify yourself as one of those people by doing something really impressive. For example, you could win the prize for coming top of your year at uni, or have a really impressive extra-curricular such as setting up a significant pro-bono project or whatever. If you haven't done this, then the law firm does not know if you will be an amazing lawyer or if you will be mediocre. The law firm would be taking a risk if it recruited you, because it does not know if you are intelligent and hard-working: you haven't done anything to prove that you are better than other candidates.
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    (Original post by Lady Maleficent)
    I am not. I am referring to those who have equal, if not far better, university grades and relevant experience but are struck by a law firm's A-level cut-off because they have ABB rather than AAB.
    The problem is the level of competition. I would think most trainees at the top-tier mega-competitive Magic Circle and US firms will have have AAA or AAAA.

    Its not just about HR cost. If you don't have first class academics, then unless you have done something pretty amazing to bring yourself up to the level of the other candidates its difficult to see how a top firm could justify choosing you.

    Obviously ABB is absolutely fine for the vast majority of firms. We are only talking about the top-tier mega-competitive Magic Circle firms. People tend to focus on the top MC firms because they have the biggest brands and are the most recognisable, but in reality those firms only constitute a small percentage of lawyers.
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    I think the age of the applicant will also affect how HR view their A-levels - i.e. exactly how long ago they took their exams.

    If you have an applicant who is, say, 35 and looking to undertake a career change, I imagine you would not be so concerned about them getting ABB. This is in part because of well-documented grade inflation. I'm not inclined to go on about how exams have gotten easier, but I imagine it is the case that if you were taking A-levels 17 years ago, ABB would have probably put you in some top percentile or another. Also, a 35 year old applicant is likely to have lots of other experiences that "cancel out" the A-level performance and it is also likely that they are a very different person to when they were 18.

    Now compare this to a 20 year old 2nd year undergrad who got ABB. There will be lots of applicants of the same age who got higher grades and chances are they haven't changed that much in two years. Everyone likes to believe that university dramatically changes you as a person but in my experience, looking at people I went to school with, most people are still very similar in terms of their attitude to work as they were at school - and this is seven years since we left school, let alone after two years.

    As has been pointed out, there are a small minority people for whom the first year of university is a revelation and they are completely different people. But as far as recruiters are concerned, ABB for a 20 year old means that either a) the candidate didn't try hard enough or b) they are intelligent but not quite as intelligent as other applicants, and they won't risk that either of these traits are still a feature of a candidate's character.

    Of course, I'm using ABB as an example because it's what has been suggested as being unfair to cut off, but as someone mentioned above, ABB is fine for a lot of law firms, so hardly represents an insurmountable hurdle if your university grades are good. I also don't think that firms pay much attention to GCSEs unless they were absolutely diabolical and incongruous with all your other results.
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    (Original post by Old Reliable)
    I think the age of the applicant will also affect how HR view their A-levels - i.e. exactly how long ago they took their exams.

    If you have an applicant who is, say, 35 and looking to undertake a career change, I imagine you would not be so concerned about them getting ABB. This is in part because of well-documented grade inflation. I'm not inclined to go on about how exams have gotten easier, but I imagine it is the case that if you were taking A-levels 17 years ago, ABB would have probably put you in some top percentile or another. Also, a 35 year old applicant is likely to have lots of other experiences that "cancel out" the A-level performance and it is also likely that they are a very different person to when they were 18.

    Now compare this to a 20 year old 2nd year undergrad who got ABB. There will be lots of applicants of the same age who got higher grades and chances are they haven't changed that much in two years. Everyone likes to believe that university dramatically changes you as a person but in my experience, looking at people I went to school with, most people are still very similar in terms of their attitude to work as they were at school - and this is seven years since we left school, let alone after two years.

    As has been pointed out, there are a small minority people for whom the first year of university is a revelation and they are completely different people. But as far as recruiters are concerned, ABB for a 20 year old means that either a) the candidate didn't try hard enough or b) they are intelligent but not quite as intelligent as other applicants, and they won't risk that either of these traits are still a feature of a candidate's character.

    Of course, I'm using ABB as an example because it's what has been suggested as being unfair to cut off, but as someone mentioned above, ABB is fine for a lot of law firms, so hardly represents an insurmountable hurdle if your university grades are good. I also don't think that firms pay much attention to GCSEs unless they were absolutely diabolical and incongruous with all your other results.
    I have never seen an application specifically asking for age/D.O.B - but I guess they could try and suss out your age from dates of school qualifications, etc.
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    (Original post by Lady Maleficent)
    I have never seen an application specifically asking for age/D.O.B - but I guess they could try and suss out your age from dates of school qualifications, etc.
    I think we still ask, but I think in a lot of firms HR has got nervous because of age discrimination.

    Employment history is the usual give away.
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    Yes there are firms which have strict cut-off grades for A-Level...I've never actually seen a firm specify what GCSE grades are required but anyway, these are the kind of firms that I would not want to work for or apply to anyway.

    Having said that, even thost that are considered top firms i.e. Magic Circle are not that as rigid as you would think. Just because you have an ABB instead of AAA or even AAB does not mean you are automatically filtered out. I think sometimes it's about luck and actually saying well you know what, I'm going to make an application anyway because I think I have everything else going for me.

    If your university grades and LPC grades etc. are consistently high, then that should not hinder you just because you got a B instead of an A.

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