Why aren’t law graduates going into estate planning?

Dealing with high-net worth clients, being at the centre of familial disputes and being pivotal to ensuring someone’s final requests are adhered to; the day to day life an estate planner is hardly boring.

However, this doesn’t seem to reflect the view of a growing number of law graduates. Rather than will writing, prospective lawyers are much more likely to go into corporate, criminal or family law, with will writing rarely even being a consideration.

Whilst it’s ultimately up to the individual which profession they choose, it’s important to look at the long-term consequences of this trend – as the interest in will writing depletes, as does the number of will writing practitioners. This could put the future of estate planning in jeopardy, something which is concerning given the rate at which the population is ageing.

So why do prospective lawyers find will writing so unappealing?

Or rather, what makes other areas of law more appealing?

In the last few years, the number of law students has grown dramatically. Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) indicates that since 2007, the number of successful applicants has grown by around 28% and continues to rise.

High-profile television dramas such as Silk and Suits have led to an influx of interest in the profession, with the legal environment being seen as lucrative and glamourous. It is important to note, however, when the legal profession is represented on screen, the focus will predominantly be on certain practice areas – namely criminal or corporate. With these areas, therefore, any preconceptions about them being dull or tedious are displaced – something which is yet to happen for estate planning.

As a result, areas such as criminal and corporate law have seen a surge in popularity and whilst there’s far more that contributes to the reasoning behind a law student’s career path, these external influences are highly likely to have played a part.

Interest in law over recent years has similarly been driven by a number of other external factors aside from how it’s portrayed in popular culture.

Playing an increasingly prominent role in the everyday lives of many (not just students) social media and its repercussions have forged out a completely new kind of legal framework, namely in relation to data privacy and individual rights. As well as being relevant to the individual, this area of law is portrayed as exciting and fast-paced, not to mention that it changes more quickly than a Facebook feed updates.

This is of course against a backdrop of growing global tensions regarding everything from the economy to politics, leading to more and more people evaluating their own rights and what they’re entitled to legally. The recent decision of the UK to depart the European Union similarly sparked growth in human rights law, with a natural demand for legal professionals to contribute to the negotiations.

As these areas of law appear in headlines daily, they have in turn become a relevant feature of our everyday lives – something which graduates find appealing.

This is also responsible for fuelling the interest in family and criminal law. Aspects of life which graduates are exposed to on a daily basis generate an interest and appeal. In fact, many students will choose to go into a career which has touched their lives in some way, and it’s no different for law graduates.

‘But surely will writing is relevant’ you might be thinking. Everyone dies after all.

Whilst this is the case, estate planning just isn’t thought of as being relevant in the same way.

This could be down to a number of reasons, the obvious one being that it tends to be something that’s left until the last minute. Death is a subject which people tend to shy away from, so everything associated with it tends to be avoided – regardless of how fundamentally important it is. Rather than something which requires immediate attention such as conveyancing or dealing with a divorce, will writing falls down the list of priorities, often only being considered in unfavourable circumstances.

Although estate planning is one of the few areas of law which essentially applies to everyone, this means that it stops short of being ‘topical’ in the immediate sense. As a result, it tends to be overtaken by other legal areas when new graduates are deciding what they would like to specialise in.

So how can interest in estate planning be boosted?

The key, as has been observed with other areas of law, is to build understanding. The typical perception of ‘estate planning’ stops at will writing, whereas the reality, of course, extends far beyond that.

Similarly, further attention needs to be drawn to the value and significance of the profession. Will writers are ultimately responsible for handling someone’s final requests, a task which requires excellent communication skills and extreme precision. Far from being dull, it’s something which can be highly challenging, whilst equally rewarding.

Although high-profile cases and celebrity estate disputes raise the awareness around will writing, there’s still plenty of room for the importance of the profession to grow. As well as appealing to prospective lawyers, it’s to be hoped that this will also encourage more people to plan for their future.

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