*PARTNERS: EYES ONLY*
Report on the State of Legal Education in England & Wales: Legal Practice Course
Dr Erasmus Strangelove LLB, JD, BCL, Ph.D, Barrister
Partner and Director of Strategic Development
I have been asked to brief on aspects of legal education in England & Wales and advise on a number of opportunities which may present in the light of the state of the market and the current economic climate.
The Legal Practice Course
Figures released recently for 2009 show that 9,954 students enrolled on the LPC. Of those that took the final examination, 5,824 passed, a 75% pass rate. No-one seems to have a clue how many training contracts there are for 2010 yet (5809 for 2009 is given), nor the precise figure backed up in the system for students in the last two to three years who failed to secure a training contract. No-one seems to have a clue as to how many ILEX students are obtaining contracts. There are no figures available for students passing the LPC at a second sitting. Rachel Rothwell, writing in The Law Society Gazette, states…“The Law Society’s annual report does not specify how many traineeships were available in 2009, but in the previous year (August 2009 to July 2009), there were 5,809 new traineeships – almost exactly the same amount as the number of LPC graduates who passed first time last year.”
Ms Rothwell adds: “Kevin Poulter of the Junior Lawyers Division estimates that there are now between 10,000 and 20,000 LPC graduates currently looking for training contracts, although a letter in this week’s Gazette suggests that the real figure is lower.”
My observations on this may be summarised thus:
(a) With 10,000 students annually chasing 6000 training contracts (A figure which may well reduce as Tesco Law reduces the need for ‘lawyers’ with ‘sophisticated’ or, indeed, any legal qualification) there is, clearly, an over supply of young potential lawyers. The law schools appear to be doing their bit by failing 25% of LPC candidates reducing numbers to a ‘politically acceptable norm’. It is surprising that the fail rate is so high. The LPC is by no means an intellectually demanding course, the candidates are law graduates and they have paid (or firms have paid) fees of £8000 ++ for the privilege. From this, I conclude that the university law schools and LPC providers are taking on too many students – I haven’t been able to find any pass/fail statistic on leading law school websites although, I understand, students are given some mumbo jumbo about ‘Things being difficult’ – fail rates ‘may’ be being made clear to students before they part with their money? I suspect that this may not, however, be the case. Further investigation is needed on this point.
(b) Traditional universities, newly keen to get into the very lucrative post Browne fees feeding frenzy (Law is a popular cash cow with Vice Chancellors) will not be too keen to have publicity on an over supply of law graduates because this will impact on their own law student recruitment. An astonishing number of universities – some I have not even heard of until recently – are now running law degree programmes.
(c) Given that students have to get a minimum of a 2.2 (although, frankly, this is a certificate of incompetence) to get into a Legal Practice Course Farm these days – the chance of a student getting a training contract with a 2.2 from The University of Lakeside Thurrock and Bluewater et al is remote. It would appear, given degree inflation and the entrance requirement of the aforesaid LPC providers, that the chances of not getting a 2.2 are remote. Ipso facto, it follows that some not terribly bright law students are getting degrees which are not worth that much in practice and are then going on to LPC providers and handing over substantial sums of money only to charge into the valley of examination death to be cut down in their prime by the examiners. Some survive this horror only to re-take (at a fee, one presumes?) and leave their provider with another certificate of incompetence. Who, after all, will employ a person who passes the LPC on a re-sit when there are so many people who pass first time to choose from? I understand that students who secure 2.1 degree passes from the top universities tend not to fail the LPC and, not surprisingly, are better placed to get training contracts.
(d) BPP Law School is opening three new centres: Cambridge, Liverpool and Newcastle. This could well put further pressure on the public sector LPC providers who can’t compete with BPP at present on money resources and may also encourage The College of Law into a tactical retaliation on the old “me too” school of management thinking. And so the continuing tactically applied pressure on the public sector continues.
(e) As we only take people from a very select group of universities, specifying a minimum of a high Upper Second, and play the LPC providers off against other to get the best fee deals because we don’t actually care who teaches our trainees the LPC – it only take us a month to unteach them and train them ‘in our ways and means’ when they arrive here – I can see no immediate risk to us in the light of this latest information on the parlous state of legal education.
(f) Amusingly, it would seem from Rachel Rothwell’s article that the SRA does not have power to limit LPC places.
Dr Erasmus Strangelove
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