Archive for April 21st, 2009

For some bizarre reason I thought of the old dance marathons in the USA during the depression when I read the news that BPP Law School has set up a new form of speed dating – giving students the opportunity to meet prospective employers; allowing them three minutes in which to impress the training partner or members of the recruitment team.

It is a good idea but at the same time, to my eyes,  a rather depressing metaphor for the reality of the times we live in.  No longer is the student in a seller’s market.  Law firms aren’t even in a seller’s market – not even the biggest law firms. It does not take genius to work out that there are still stormy days ahead.

This led me to start thinking again about the reality for students in terms of getting training contracts or pupillages in the next two to three years and the very real possibility that the big vocational law schools may have to trim their sails, batten down the hatches, and prepare for hard times.

The BPP Law School  speed dating concept also reminded me of the iconic Yosser Hughes from Alan Bleasdale’s extraordinarily powerful television series Boys from The Blackstuff.  Yosser’s plaintiff cry ‘Gissa job” struck a chord for many who watched that programme.

In October last year I wrote a post warning that law schools, particularly law schools offering the LPC and the BVC, may have to watch their finances as the market for their services declined in the short term.  I called the piece: Forecast for law schools  for the next three years – a clear enough title.  It didn’t attract much comment or attention.   I didn’t expect it to.  There are none so blind as those who do not wish to look ahead. Many of us (and I include myself) suffer from this myopia. Peter Crisp, CEO of BPP, when I did a podcast with him  about BPP’s plans for the future, however,  was very bullish and told me that applications were ‘higher than they had ever been’.

Having been involved in legal education for twenty-five years (and more than aware of the financial structure of law schools, having assisted in founding BPP law School some years back)  I was pleased that my predictions appeared not to be well founded. I am always delighted when negative prediction turns out to be wrong.  But I remained concerned about the reality.

The Lawyer and Legal Week have been monitoring closely the redundancy rounds of law firms. Even the very biggest magic circle firms have been hit badly and while there may be ‘green shoots’ about to spring up, many green shoots are still buried deep underground,  and the old adage that the law sector is usually the last to be affected by recession but is also the last sector to come out of recession is one, I suspect, that will prove true for this recession.


It is time for  a Revised Forecast for Law Schools and this time my conclusions are rather more grim.  Again, I hope to be proved wrong – for none of us wish to see good law schools under pressure with the concomittant result that they either raise their fees (Greed is Good? –  The College of Law, BPP and Kaplan have already raised fees for the BVC and LPC) or have to reduce their offering,  or worse – close the doors, albeit temporarily.

Let’s keep it simple.

1. In recent months The Lawyer and Legal Week have reported redundancies from all the major law firms, have written about trainees being asked to defer training contracts,  and have given a pretty clear picture of a profession in recession.

Husnara Begum of The Lawyer2B writes: “Stories about law firms asking their future trainees to defer their start dates have dominated The Lawyer’s student website Lawyer2B.com in recent weeks. Barely a week has passed without at least one firm conceding it has asked future trainees to push back their start dates.”

and again… “FFW confirmed that it is not planning to hire any new trainees for 2011 and will resume recruitment activities next year for 2012 starters. The firm has also cancelled its summer vacation scheme programme.”

It would appear that there is a strong possibility that quite a few law firms aren’t going to take any trainees for 2011 or, at best, a reduced intake.

2.  So what are the big law schools going to do for students and revenue?

The Law Society Gazette reported on 17th April: ” Two top City firms have remained tight-lipped over the future of their specialist graduate training schemes after asking prospective trainees to start work a year later than planned. Magic circle firms Clifford Chance and Linklaters, which have asked prospective trainees to volunteer to defer for a year, could not comment on whether they would reduce the number.”

Given that BPP and The College of Law between them train LPC students for many of the top law  firms – if these law firms are deferring training contracts now –  is it not likely they will recruit fewer students a year down the line and BPP and The College of Law will have to look  elsewhere to make up the numbers?  Or are the big law firms going to continue trainee  recruitment at previous levels and accommodate a trainee intake double the norm for that year, next year?

Susan Blake, director of studies at City Law School, warned that cuts could be a false economy:During the last recession there were cutbacks on traineeships, but then firms didn’t have new blood coming through for the upturn.’ This would tend to suggest that she, at least, admits of the possibility that recruitment will be down. Her remarks are also, of course, pregnant with the implication that law school revenues will be down.

BPP and The College of Law – perhaps other lead LPC providers  also – may well find that their recruitment and revenues from large law firms is down.  If the big firms are cutting back,  it is likely that there will be a need for fewer trainees outside the big firm sector  as well. Overall, surely, there will be a reduction in demand for LPC places?  If this proves to be correct,  either LPC courses generally will suffer a declining revenue or the big players will simply take those who would have gone to smaller providers, leaving the smaller law schools with a very serious shortage.  in this ‘extreme model’ it is possible that smaller providers will be looking at lecturer and staff redundancies  or worse :  closure of their courses in an extreme situation?

3. What about the students?

It is a competitive market, increasingly so. Students who have training contracts, or those asked to defer,  are covered.  Those who do not have training contracts set up now face an uneasy time until the profession comes through the recession.  What of students at university now who had planned for 2011?  If law firms aren’t recruiting, the answer is obvious.

What about a student who has to make the decision to invest in paying the substantial fees for the LPC? Those who had no prospect of joining a City or other firm who sponsor students for the LPC will continue to finance the course as before – if they take the risk of doing so in the present climate.  But what of students who planned to go to a magic circle or other large firm?

City firms sponsor their students and pay the substantial fees.  Are students who may once have expected a place on a magic circle or City firm training scheme suddenly going to dig into their own pockets and pay the LPC fees?  It is possible – but I suspect that some of these students will simpyly wait until the up turn comes, as surely it will.  Maybe the upturn will not come quickly, so they may well have to dip into their own pockets to pay to do the LPC if they wish to  be in the market when the upturn comes.

I do hope that I am wrong in what is a fairly obvious conclusion to draw,  given the evidence appearing week by week that the profession is in recession. I suspect that I am not .

I end with the perhaps rather gloomy statement that if I was running a small law school now, even though profit is not the motive because of full service provision policy, I would be looking at the figures very closely and would be watching even more closely  the advertising and marketing of the big providers.  If revenues aren’t coming in it will have a knock on effect on the finances of the university provider.  Will the universities bide their time without cost cutting, raising their fees to make up shortfall,  and be onsidering redundancy consultations?  We shall find out soon enough.

As always – I am very interested to hear what you think and have to say… over to you.

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Editor pick of the day
21st April 2009

Disbarred For Bank Robbery

The Twitter Revolution: The brains behind the Web’s hottest networking tool.

Hubris – this has made my day…

Gordon Ramsay restaurants found to be using pre-prepared meals
• Chef’s gastro-pub dishes come from off-site kitchen
• Diners face price mark-up of 600% in some cases
Guardian (Hat Tip to John Flood)

Mike SP

And you just HAVE to see this from The White Rabbit – a classic
The White Rabbit is on good form… with ‘Sorry to drag Law into this’.
” Miss Roxborough, I will address you if I may, as during the course of this trial you are the only one of the 4 solicitors representing these defendants that I have had no cause to criticise. What I have to say therefore does not arise from your conduct of the case. Conspiracy to Defraud is on any view a most serious allegation and on conviction, on the facts of this case, merits a substantial term of imprisonment. “… You really should take a bit of time to read this…

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