The College of Law is on a bit of a roll. Having already bagged three-quarters of the magic circle for its new bespoke City LPC course, it now has its sights trained on the US firms.
Driven by its energetic chief executive Nigel Savage, the college has been quick to exploit the Law Society’s new flexible approach to legal education, which arrived as a consequence of its ongoing training framework review.
Initiated in 2001, it is hoped that this summer the Law Society will finally be ready to report the conclusions of its exhaustive consultation, geared at finding ways to make legal education – from university through to qualification – more relevant to all its users.
It is inconceivable that bespoke LPCs will have more than limited application – Freshfields and Herbert Smith are probably the only remaining City firms boasting sufficient volumes of trainees to justify a bespoke course, with Freshfields expressing itself as content with the existing model.
Much more likely is a greater choice of LPC options, with offerings targeted to specific law firm groupings, from the City to the high street.
And while US firm think-tank, the 51 Committee, was galvanised to turn its attention to training by the initiative of Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance and Linklaters, bespoke courses are clearly not economically viable. White & Case is the biggest US recruiter of trainees, but takes on only 20-25 each year. Weil Gotshal is next in line, but takes on just 12 trainees annually. A&O, Clifford Chance and Linklaters, meanwhile, each recruit in excess of 120 trainees a year.
US firms are much more likely to look at teaming up with education providers to provide specific courses, following the Linklaters model, which last year outsourced its ‘short seat’ in litigation to the College of Law.
Most US firms in London are not full-service and would benefit from being able to provide additional training in their particular areas of expertise: a high-yield transactional module for Latham’s future stars, perhaps, or cross-border M&A training for those heading to Sullivan & Cromwell.
Ultimately, US firms want the best UK lawyers, and the College of Law has made itself available to listen to their needs. It will not have it all its own way, though: Nottingham Law School, for example, already provides some training for Shearman & Sterling. The winner in legal education will be the provider versatile enough to cope with the increasing fragmentation of the marketplace.