Fast-track to student unrest
27 October 2010 | Updated: 27 October 2010 11:51 am
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Accelerated Legal Practice Courses for City firms’ students are proving divisive, says Husnara Begum
Clifford Chance’s plan to launch a fast-track Legal Practice Course (LPC) have left many students asking why such an offering is not available for all aspiring solicitors.
As reported by Lawyer2B.com last month (20 September), the magic circle firm is introducing the condensed course in conjunction with the College of Law (CoL) commencing January 2012. CoL already plans to roll out a similar offering for Linklaters next year.
Clifford Chance’s course will last seven months, including a one-month e-learning foundation course, as opposed to the usual 10 months. One of the advantages of slashing the length of the LPC and running two courses per year, as is the case with Clifford Chance, is that it fits better with City firms’ two-cohort model.
The move towards only offering the accelerated course to a select number of students with City training contracts, however, has sparked fears over the creation of a two-tier legal education system, especially because, at a cost of around £12,000, the LPC is already seen by many as one of the biggest barriers stopping students from non-traditional backgrounds breaking into the profession.
Former CoL LPC student Miranda Mannering claimed that she could definitely have completed the course in a shorter period of time. “If you want to work in the City, as many of my friends do,” she said, “then the fast-track LPC would be great as you can get stuck in faster. But only offering it to trainees going into the City disadvantages those who’d like to start their training contracts earlier so they can start paying back their loans sooner.”
Fellow CoL student Usman Malik agreed, saying: “Without giving all students the choice between a fast-track and full-length course, the creation of a two-tier system is inevitable.”
Undergraduates have also hit out against only making the accelerated LPC available to students with City training contracts. University of Kent Law Society president Zainul Jussab said: “I think accelerated courses are elitist. Just because you join a certain type of firm, why should you finish the LPC more quickly than everyone else?”
CoL’s arch-rival BPP Law School was the first provider to launch an accelerated course for the so-called ’City consortium’ of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith, the newly merged Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose and Slaughter and May. BPP’s fast-track LPC welcomed its third cohort of students in August.
BPP has confirmed that it plans to roll out accelerated courses for more of its City firm clients and is seriously considering opening them up to all students. In contrast, CoL currently has no plans to extend its offering to anyone else, although its director of business development Sarah Hutchison said: “The college is very adaptable, so if students want a shorter course we’d be open to the idea, provided we can maintain quality.”
But BPP dean Peter Crisp argued that the fast-track LPC is not necessarily suitable for all students and that some may prefer to do it over a longer period of time and, for example,combine it with a part-time job.
One of the potential problems with introducing a condensed LPC for all students is that some may struggle. For example, one LPC tutor has questioned whether someone with a 2:2 degree from a less reputable university could cope with the pace of the fast-track course, which requires students to be in class five days a week.
Indeed, in recognition of the sheer volume of work involved, at least one member of the City LPC consortium requires its future trainees to enter into an agreement that bars them from having part-time jobs during the LPC.
Mannering and Usman both claim they could have done the LPC in seven months. That said, Mannering argued that some students would need the full 10 months to get their heads around the accounts module, for example.
One student who is on BPP’s fast-track LPC agreed, claiming it is his future training contract that is keeping him motivated. “Given the intensity of the course, if I didn’t have a training contract or wasn’t completely sure about training as a solicitor, I’d be half tempted to give up,” he said. “I’m lucky because for my law degree I had to write lots of essays, which was the perfect preparation for the fast-track LPC. But students who write the odd essay per term will definitely find it harder.”
With seven City firms already signed up for accelerated LPCs and BPP planning to roll out similar programmes for more of its clients next year, this seems to be a trend that is only going to gain momentum.
Let us just hope that providers avoid the creation of a two-tier system by giving all students the fast-track option. As University College London Law Society careers secretary Shiva Riahi put it: “In the perfect world we should all have the choice to study the LPC for seven months.”