Legal education providers across the country have started to jostle for supremacy in response to the recent relaxation of LPC rules by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
In one of the biggest shake-ups in legal education history, the SRA recently unveiled the official list of institutions that are to launch the so-called ‘LPC 3’ from September.
The announcement has revealed that many institutions are using the new, more relaxed LPC guidelines to revamp courses, with some providers, including BPP Law School, introducing fast-track options.
In a radical move by BPP, the LPC is being slashed from 10 months to just seven and a half months for those trainees due to join one of the firms in the five-strong City LPC consortium, which comprises Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith, Lovells, Norton Rose and Slaughter and May. The new course will have two intakes per year, February and August, with the first cohort due to start next month.
BPP is also launching a third branch in London later this year in premises opposite Norman Foster’s iconic Gherkin building. The school announced last week that it had secured a new site in Bristol – days after its arch-rival the College of Law (CoL) went public with its plans to open in the city.
After a shaky start Kaplan Law School, the newest entrant in the London legal education market, recently signed up its seventh LPC client and at the start of the month secured validation from the Bar Standards Board to run its first-ever BVC from September 2010 for up to 60 students.
Kaplan, the London arm of Nottingham Law School, is also about to introduce a new part-time LPC from September 2010.
But Kaplan chief executive Giles Proctor denies that the steady expansion of the school will saturate an already overcrowded legal education market.
“We plan to grow further, but we want to grow by quality and evolve at a comfortable pace,” he insists. “I think there’s enough room in London for us because it means that students now have a choice.”
A choice they may have, but with nine schools in London already providing LPC courses to students who are finding it increasingly difficult to secure training contracts, is there really a need for them all?
According to CoL chief executive Nigel Savage there is. “People will always want to go into law,” he says. “Eighty-eight per cent of our students find jobs in the legal services market – not all of them as lawyers, but in the legal services market nonetheless.”
But just as law schools continue to bolt extra courses onto their growing academic rosters, they are also competing in an arms race over how many law firms they can sign up as clients. BPP, for instance, has just added Reed Smith at its sixteenth LPC client.
BPP dean Peter Crisp says pairing law firms up with education providers does not remove choice from students and is instead a sign of “healthy competition”.
“We believe law firms and trainees should have a choice of where studies can be undertaken and that they’ll be the ones who ultimately benefit from healthy competition,” he stresses.
Meanwhile, Kaplan director Peter Anderson hopes that Kaplan’s own success in gaining more clients will extend further into the UK legal market.
“Mayer Brown was the first to join us because it was an American firm and knew the Kaplan brand from the US,” he says. “I hope more US firms sign up with us because there are a lot of great business opportunities because of our links in America.”
And although Kaplan only has immediate plans to move into vacant rooms at its London premises as it gets bigger, the school has not ruled out following in the footsteps of the CoL and BPP and expanding outside the capital.
Some say Kaplan is trying to run before it can walk, and with only 300 validated LPC places for September 2009-10 compared with 2,920 and 4,480 from BPP and the CoL respectively, you would have to agree.
This is, however, a considerable improvement on the 2007-08 academic year, which saw just 53 LPC and 12 GDL students successfully enrol with Kaplan in its first year.
Elsewhere, BPP Holdings, the owner of BPP Law School, has agreed to be taken over by US-based Apollo Global, a joint venture formed in 2007 between Apollo Group and private equity house The Carlyle Group, for £305m.
Although BPP would not comment on the move, its rival the CoL is speculating that the venture would see the legal education provider begin to focus more on undergraduate courses.
“Apollo is a massive sausage machine for delivering degrees and it’s going to take advantage of the monopoly BPP has in the private sector here of degree-awarding powers,” contends Savage.
BPP already plans to launch a new two-year law degree. It will start from September 2009 and will be aimed at students who want to fast-track their studies. The course will cost a total of £9,750 if students book all their modules together.
“With all the changes being made by the SRA, as well as BPP introducing programmes like this, there’s going to be no quality assurance in the market,” argues Savage. “There will, of course, be casualties in all of this, but the market will decide. At the end of the day it’s up to the students to buy into a trusted brand.”