Law Training Centre has launched its new Open To All Scholarship, aiming to support as many people as possible in accessing a legal education. To mark its launch, we spoke to Founders Eve and Dino Dullabh about the importance of the new scheme.
What is the ‘Open To All Scholarship’ and why are you launching it now?
We have personal experience of how invasive a lot of scholarship and bursary applications can be. It might seem like a strong word, but the process can be quite demeaning and ends up discouraging learners from applying for schemes that would turn their aspirations of a legal career into a reality.
We were also very conscious of the need for Law Training Centre to respond to the cost-of-living crisis. Through our unique online by design and multi-accredited model, we’re fortunate to be in a position to be able to help provide an avenue for learners to achieve their goals, and it would have run counter to our values, both personally and as an organisation, not to use that position to make a difference.
That’s why we wanted to introduce the Open To All Scholarship. The idea for the scholarship was born out of our previous initiatives, including our Access To Law SQE Scholarship, which in some respects was a pilot scheme for the Open To All Scholarship.
Essentially, the Open To All Scholarship does what it says on the tin. If you meet the requirements of the scholarship, not only are you welcome to apply, but we would actively encourage you to do so.
Our mindset with scholarships is very much to say yes wherever possible. Which is reflected by the fact that we have approved 94 applications so far for our Access To Law SQE Scholarship and refused none. That’s equivalent to an award of £94,000 to our learners.
Is this a first of its kind initiative?
As far as we’re aware – yes! There are other scholarships available through other providers, but this is the only scholarship that is accessible to learners across all the major routes into law and with a rolling application window.
That flexibility is absolutely vital for us. Central to our approach is to ask what we were missing when we were students. A lot of our learners are either already in full-time work or parents with caring responsibilities, or even both, so it was really important to us that the Open To All Scholarship lived up to its name and reflected that by giving applicants as much flexibility as possible.
That flexibility is what sets us apart from other training providers and we want our scholarship initiatives to be an extension of that. We’re very aware of just how important that flexibility is to a lot of our learners and how hard it can be for them to find it elsewhere. We also know that there is a real need for this sort of scholarship.
There’s a lot of great government support out there, for example, to help people attend college or pursue apprenticeships. But most require learners to attend the college or business in person. There seems to be an assumption that studying the course or apprenticeship, whatever it may be, is the only thing that people have to focus on. That’s often great for a person right at the start of their working life, but for a working parent, for example, it can be a real obstacle.
Who is it aimed at?
The core question we ask is whether a learner can afford to study the course without the scholarship. If the answer to that question is no, then they are exactly who we had in mind when we were developing this initiative. Our goal for the scholarship is to give learners as much control over their legal education as possible.
Ultimately, the only restrictions on applying for the scholarship as far as we are concerned is that it is not available to learners who have been awarded one of our other scholarships. Otherwise, this scholarship really is open to all and that includes overseas learners.
What are the criteria that will determine who receives the award?
One of the core ambitions we had when we set up Law Training Centre was to break down the barriers to accessing a legal education. One of the ways that we wanted to do that was through making sure that the schemes we set up to help our learners were as accessible and inclusive as possible.
Too many application processes are themselves a barrier – demanding time that a lot of our learners simply don’t have to spare and asking for information that people aren’t necessarily comfortable sharing. That isn’t the way that we wanted to operate. This scholarship is for everyone who needs it – as far as we’re concerned that is the most important criteria.
What are you hoping to achieve through this initiative?
There is currently a bottleneck in law firms across the industry, with junior staff unable to progress in their careers because they don’t have the qualifications that they need, which is having an outsized impact on diversity, especially women and working parents. That’s creating a glass ceiling in the profession – one that we are determined to play a part in breaking. If you look at the stats, it becomes pretty clear.
80% of junior staff across the legal sector are women, but in senior leadership teams that figure is reversed. We’re seeing a similar problem with solicitors. It’s great to see that 53% of solicitors on the roll are now women, but at partner-level, that drops to just 30%. Changing these statistics is a key goal of the scholarship.
We also feel a responsibility as a training provider to do more. Particularly when forward thinking regulators have been leading the way and encouraging innovation in legal training. The SRA, for example, has made the solicitor pathway as flexible as it has ever been, whether that’s by embracing learning online or opening assessment centres in 26 countries. As a training provider, though we always look to innovate, we must work within the framework set by regulators.
That’s why we welcome the current creativity and innovation in the sector, and are delighted to see closer alignment with our vision for more flexible routes to qualifying. It’s great for us to be able to bring to life the initiatives to democratise a legal education at a regulatory and industry level. Learners and law firms alike increasingly expect access to online flexible education, and we are making that increasingly possible.
How do you see Law Training Centre’s scholarship programme developing over the coming years?
The Open to All Scholarship is a key part of our plan moving forwards. Because we’re based online, we can offer high-quality teaching and one-to-one support without having to charge our students the earth. And because our course fees are a lot lower, we’re able to offer a lot more scholarships.
In fact, we’re intending to extend this scholarship programme. At the moment, we’re funding this entirely ourselves, but we’re hoping to change that in the future by working more closely with our partners in the industry. The benefactor model is very common across the legal training sector, where large firms or otherwise interested high net worth individuals put their names to scholarships or law school buildings. But that has historically only been an option for the biggest firms and wealthiest individuals.
That’s another thing that we would like to change by making the benefactor model more widely available, helping them to give back and effect change in the industry. Ultimately, we need that help to really scale our efforts to tackle issues in the legal sector such as problems with diversity.
Do you have any other initiatives on the horizon?
In a word – yes. Expanding access to qualifying work experience and making it easier to sign it off is a key aim of ours, and we have a plan in place to do that through our partner Access Law Clinic. For people whose company or firm won’t or can’t sign off on their qualifying work experience, this is a huge barrier. They are typically forced to go to a consultant at the cost of around £900. But through the Clinic, we’re able to offer this service at a much lower cost and we’re working closely with law firms to expand this access.
We’re also working on an initiative to broaden access to the judiciary, and with the regulators on initiatives across a number of issues that are affecting our learners. One initiative that we’re particularly excited about is to help people cross-qualify who have sat SQE1 but aren’t keen to progress with SQE2, and we have a range of other ideas as well, so there is plenty more to come from Law Training Centre over the coming months.
Learn more about the Open To All Scholarship and how you can apply here.