James Joseph is UK Senior Correspondent for JURIST.
Over the last 18 months Emma Lilley and I have been campaigning for The Law Society to diversify their admissions ceremonies and hold them regionally, allowing more people to attend their special day of being admitted to the role of solicitor, which in layman’s terms is their graduation and receipt of authority to practice by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Historically, and up until now, The Law Society’s ceremonies have only been held at their headquarters at 113 Chancery Lane in London or online (although the latter was temporary, due to the pandemic). However, since Covid there has been a move to make online processes and access permanent, as we have seen across all sectors and in all countries around the world. There has to be a realisation that old habits need to change. This is no less true for solicitors as it is for others.
Emma Lilley started her mission to change the legal sector across the UK back in 2020. Since then Emma has amassed a huge following on her Instagram account under the name ‘In-House Potter‘ (named this as Emma works in-house as a company lawyer, and Potter due to the city she is proud to come from). Emma’s success was largely due to her passion and drive to increase access and the capacity of new solicitors to attend their ceremonies. Emma could not attend her own ceremony in 2017 for various reasons relating to travel. Meanwhile I’ve been a champion of accessibility to the legal profession, co-founding an organization – Bringing [Dis] Ability to the Bar – campaigning for individuals with disabilities who intend on becoming barristers.
Right now, upon qualification, every solicitor is invited to an admissions ceremony by the Law Society of England and Wales. Despite most solicitors being based outside of London, the ceremony is only ever held in the UK’s capital city, London. Emma and I argue that everyone should have a chance to celebrate their achievements, in-person, wherever they are based, without having to go to large expense to do so. There are already enough barriers to entry, and with the legal sector (and most of society) having a London-centric perspective of the UK, a change represents the ability for those regionally to celebrate their achievements without the expense of traveling to London and with the backing of their professional body. Through “Mission Admissions”, Emma and I hope to increase accessibility within our profession by opening up more locations for the ceremony.
Emma is also not alone in wanting to make this work, and for regional ceremonies to become a reality in cities across the UK from Hull to Exeter, Manchester to Bristol, Exeter to Liverpool, or Brighton and Birmingham. The solicitor’s profession is already one of the hardest to get into, with the number of those getting Training Contracts after completing their qualifying degree known as the Legal Practice Course (LPC) make bleak reading as The Law Society’s annual statistics report makes clear.
The average number of students qualifying as solicitors with a law degree between 2011 and 2019 was 23,413. Of them, an average of 5,757 secured a training contract. That is roughly 25%, and so the odds are truly stacked against those qualifying already. With the formal ceremony only held in London this does not make for fair representation either, and marginalises those outside of the capital city; despite the fact that only 40% of lawyers in England and Wales work in London.
The Mission has so far been featured in The Times of London and Legal Cheek, a student newsletter on trends, legal news, and quirky legal stories. But for me and for Emma the journey does not stop with The Law Society taking on the Mission to make ceremonies in-person and local. At present The Law Society have agreed to hold one ‘trial’ ceremony in a non-London UK city in 2023, and see what the attendance is like in order to think about branding out to other venues. For now, we will continue to fight for multiple regional ceremonies across England and Wales in future. However, the willingness of The Law Society to trial regional admissions represents a huge step, the first such exercise to not be held in London for 100 years of solicitors’ practice, and in over 50 years of ‘admissions ceremonies.
Both Emma and I are delighted that The Law Society are actively working to engage with Mission Admissions and are open to localised admission ceremonies. As with everything we have seen since the pandemic, the professions must be open to change, and the legal sector is no different. Emma’s work shows the appetite for change is there and that there is overwhelming desire for regional ceremonies. We are excited to be able to work with The Law Society to make this happen, and who knows where we might go next. Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands or Bermuda anyone?