Launch of firm planning to charge desperate graduates for jobs dumped

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AN AUSTRALIAN law firm that planned to make graduates pay $22,000 for a job has abandoned the project admitting the proposal was an “elitist solution”.

In mid-2015, partners of WBH Legal in South Australia announced the establishment of a new firm which promised budding lawyers a unique opportunity.

Adlawgroup would give a small group of graduates their first job, with on-the-job training for two years, in exchange for the five-figure sum.

The idea was touted as a direct response to the current graduate job opportunity pool, where an oversupply of qualified young lawyers and an industry that hasnt quite bounced back from the global financial crisis had led to a shortage of jobs for graduates.

At the time, the firm denied the project was taking an unfair or predatory advantage of a dire situation to get new lawyers to buy a job. Rather, it said it was an exercise in participating in a unique opportunity to create new jobs and open up new markets.

But the would-be partners in the new firm have now admitted their idea was a dud. Desperate graduates will have to go about landing their first job the old fashioned way.

In a statement sent to news.com.au, the firms spokeswoman, Tina Hailstone, said: WBH Legal has decided not to proceed with the Adlawgroup project and the new firm will not be established.

The new firms establishment was pending analysis and approval by the Law Society of South Australia, which last year blocked Adlawgroup from launching, saying its program was not consistent with an employment relationship.

While WBH had been working to address the proposed fee for participation, it failed to find a solution.

A number of options have been explored. However, the concept is not economically viable without asking the participating new lawyers to invest in their own futures, Ms Hailstone said.

While there were a significant number of applicants willing to pay the participation fee; the partners recognise that this carried the unpalatable consequence of creating an elitist solution to the fundamental problem of too many graduates and too few opportunities in law.

The firm was previously defensive of its controversial business model, dismissing critics as not having a full understanding.

It faced significant criticism for the programs high entry fee, and was last year blocked from launching in its proposed firm following a review by the South Australian Law Society.

Following the Law Societys verdict, the firm revealed it had been exploring the possibility of having the partners of WBH Legal absorbing most of the costs of participation themselves.

Partners hoped to be able to offer new lawyers the opportunity to invest in their own future careers, and receive on-the-job training while fulfilling the two years supervised employment required of SA lawyers before they allowed to practice independently.

In an earlier interview, Ms Hailstone told news.com.au there had been more than 25 applicants for the program before its ad was removed from job search site Seek after just one day, and that those who got to the final interview stage were disappointed it was not going ahead.

The opportunities for graduates arent there. The situation is getting worse and my view is this is an effect that you get when you turn professional education into a commodity, she said.

In its statement, WBH Legal said it was willing to engage with like-minded firms in the wider discussion on how the issues of graduate unemployment and access to legal services should be addressed in the future.

Figures indicate graduate employment is at a record low in the legal field, with more than a quarter (25.9 per cent) of grads unable to secure fulltime employment within four months of finishing uni, according to Graduate Careers Australia.