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Legal Practice Course (LPC) providers in Bristol are on the brink of all-out war as the College of Law (CoL) and BPP Law School gear up to launch in the city next autumn.
Bristol Institute of Legal Practice (BILP) announced it is slashing its LPC fees by 13.5 per cent and is refurbishing its building days after both BPP and CoL confirmed they have secured premises in the city centre (read article).
LPC students enrolling with BILP, which is part of the University of West of England (UWE), in 2010 will be charged £7,860 compared to the £9,095 paid by existing students. Meanwhile, UWE students who go onto study at BILP will benefit from further discounts.
Head of BILP, Steve Dinning, told Lawyer2B.com: “We think the two big providers can’t match BILP in two crucial areas. First our track record on quality and second on price. We’ve reduced our fees to meet the needs of our client firms as well as those of students who have chosen law in these tough economic times.”
“This kind of expansion raises serious issues for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Although at first it looks like there’ll be more competition, the way they [BPP and CoL] are expanding by acquiring expensive city centre premises and signing exclusive tie-ups with firms makes it very hard for smaller providers to compete and will therefore ultimately reduce choice,” added Dinning.
None of Bristol’s major law firms such as the likes of Burges Salmon, Clarke Wilmott and TLT, currently have exclusive relationships with a single LPC provider.
Neither BPP nor CoL have set their 2010/11 LPC fees for Bristol but CoL currently charges £9,800 for students studying in Birmingham and Manchester and £9,450 in Chester in York. Meanwhile, studying the LPC at BPP’s Manchester and Leeds branches costs £9,995 at the moment.
CoL chief executive, Nigel Savage, has hit out at BILP for cutting its fees. “With that sort of reduction BILP cannot continue to deliver quality. In fact, if they [BILP] can afford to make such big cuts now you have to ask whether they were over-charging in the first place.
In a related development BILP has also announced the expansion of its national part-time (weekend only study) LPC after signing deals with Southampton Solent and Westminster universities along with its partner Central Law Training (CLT).
But Savage argued that BILP’s relationship with CLT was potentially damaging to its brand. “BILP was once known for high quality provision but their tie-up with CLT is dragging their brand down,” claimed Savage.
Savage also attacked BPP about misleading the market about its Bristol premises. Rather than acquiring a new building, as is the case with CoL, BPP plans to run the LPC out of a site thatis already occupied by BPP Business School.
“Without extra room where are they going to put all their extra students? I happen to know there’s a bus shelter nearby perhaps they’ll put some of the students there,” said Savage.
One area on which the providers see eye-to-eye however is the reintroduction of an SRA grading system for the LPC – something that was abolished in recent years in preparation for the next generation of LPC courses.
“Rather than spending five to ten years consulting with providers I would urge the SRA to immediately re-instate its grading visits and those should include an element of assessing classes. The results should then be published and made available to the public,” argued Dinning.