Nigel Savage is in an extremely good mood. During the photoshoot for this article, the College of Law’s chief executive is full of banter and more than willing to strike any pose requested of him.
But then, the energetic 56-year-old does have reason to smile: he has presided over an impressive turnaround at Store Street, which has seen the College of Law evolve into a hungry organisation gearing up to meet the exacting standards of the legal profession in the 21st century.
The college’s nadir came in 2001 when a consortium of leading City firms struck an exclusive deal with BPP Law School and Nottingham Law School for their trainees to study the new commercially focused City LPC. Excluding the College of Law from the deal was the firms’ way of giving it a good kicking for failing to meet their needs.
Looking back on this, Savage, the consummate spinner that he is, contrives to turn the knockback into something positive.
“We were just in the middle of turning the college around. I didn’t think it at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight it was a good thing, because we were able to continue the change process,” he says.
Six years down the line and the situation could not be more different. In a major coup, once the City LPC contract was over the College of Law signed up former consortium members Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Linklaters for its bespoke LPC. From its pro bono activity to its move to ultra-modern i-tutorials, under Savage the institution has become a leader in the legal education world.
The college also scored a notable first last year when it was granted degree-awarding powers, meaning that its GDL and LPC students will now graduate with an LLB instead of a diploma. Savage, who is fiercely competitive in his professional life, is quick to gloat that arch-rival BPP is still waiting to get similar powers.
The designer stubble of old may have been eschewed for a smoother look, but he still cuts a spiky figure, and one who is not adverse to a spot of industrial language or mischievous comment.
One college initiative he is particularly proud of is the ‘Pathways to Law’ scheme, which is aimed at widening access to the legal profession. He says persuading his governors to invest the cash is “one of his biggest achievements”. The ambitious programme aims to help school pupils from non-privileged backgrounds become lawyers and the college has backed the scheme to the tune of £1.25m over the next five years.
Savage’s interest in this area stems in part from his personal history.
Savage, who grew up in rural Nottinghamshire, came from a modest background; no one in his family had attended university. It looked for a while like that the trend would continue when he failed his 11-plus and was told by a teacher that he would never amount to anything.
“Being told as an 11-year-old that you’re no f***ing use to anyone was a defining moment for me. I didn’t have a great deal of parental support, but I refused to accept it,” he says.
After leaving school at 16 he took on a series of dead-end jobs, but did haul himself back into the education system and passed his O and A-levels. He went on to study business law at Manchester College of Commerce (now Manchester Metropolitan University), where he became the first person to gain a first-class law degree.
“I made sure that I was in the local paper and told them about the teacher who said I’d never make it. I got my own back in the end,” he grins.
In the late 1980s, when he held the position of professor of business law at Nottingham Polytechnic, he hatched an audacious plan in a city centre wine bar to crack the College of Law’s monopoly on postgraduate legal education, and Nottingham Law School was born. He stayed there for seven years before taking up his current post.
“In many respects I find it more difficult now because I’m part of the establishment, I’m not the underdog anymore. But on the other hand, I’m now in a position where I can change the system,” he muses.
Savage maintains that the biggest barrier to entry to the solicitors’ profession is the training contract. He expresses disappointment that the long-running training framework review, now being run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority after the Law Society split off its functions, is not addressing fundamental questions on the definition of a solicitor and how this relates to workers who are providers of legal services.
So what is the solution? Savage proposes a system that allows potential lawyers to gain the status of solicitor and then build up credits in a similar way to the accountancy profession.
This, he says, would improve standards and “give some status to kids that might not be able to get an orthodox training contract”.
It is a radical proposal, but with Savage’s determination, anything is possible.
|Organisation:||College of Law|
|Nigel Savage ‘s CV||
1970 – LLB, Manchester College of Commerce;
1973 – LLM, University of Sheffield;
1980 – PhD in Governance, University of Strathclyde
1976 – lecturer, Leeds University; legal academic, University of Strathclyde;
1984 – professor of business law, Nottingham University;
1989 – head of law department, Nottingham Polytechnic;
1991 – dean of law faculty, Nottingham Polytechnic; managing director, Nottingham Law School;
1996 – chief executive, College of Law