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Giles Proctor is in an extremely cheery mood. But then again, Nottingham at Kaplan Law Schools new chief executive has a lot to smile about. The French restaurant were dining at serves the most fantastic death-by-chocolate pudding any self-proclaimed chocoholic such as Proctor would be glad to get their hands on. And thats just for starters (okay, desert then).
Proctor was hired from rival the College of Law, where he was charged with designing the LPC, to head Nottingham Law Schools (NLS) new London campus. And with the launch now just weeks away it is small wonder that he is on such good form. But Proctor knows he has his work cut out with Londons post-graduate legal education market already dominated by heavyweights such as the College of Law and BPP Law School.
NLS has teamed up with US professional training giant Kaplan in an ambitious attempt to crack the fiercely competitive London market. Back in the 1990s, NLS dipped its toes in the capital by franchising its courses to the then fledgling BPP. As part of this arrangement the franchisees, which also included Liverpool John Moores and Bournemouth Universities, got to use NLSs teaching materials but were not provided with premises or teaching staff.
When the deal with Kaplan was announced last summer it attracted fierce criticism from NLSs rivals. But Proctor is confident that when the branch, which is based in trendy Borough Market, welcomes its first tranche of students in September the critics will fall silent. Its a great deal between two very successful training organisations who have a very clear vision of what they want to achieve, says Proctor. Nottingham has got the pedigree and it should be very easy for us to transplant that quality to London. It really will feel like one school that just happens to be operating out of two sites.
Indeed, NLSs main branch is the only law school to have been awarded an excellent grade on every Law Society inspection and under the new ratings system it has again been awarded the highest possible marks.
NLSs assault on London will initially be relatively small-scale. In September, around 100 LPC and GDL students will enrol with the London campus. In stark contrast, the College of Law attracted 800 students to its Moorgate branch in just the first year. BPP, meanwhile, has around 1,400 students across its Holborn and Waterloo campuses.
Although Nottingham at Kaplan has significantly fewer students than its rivals, Proctor insists that this number is not to be sniffed at, arguing that the school received between three to four applications for each place from students inside and outside London. He adds that this number will allow the law school to give its students more care and attention.
Longer-term, Nottingham at Kaplan is validated to admit up to 300 students. If the school is to achieve that number it needs to get the big City firms on side. Currently, the only firm the school has signed up to provide the LPC for is Chicago-based Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw, which typically recruits 25 to 30 trainees per year.
But is this a case of too little, too late? Nottingham at Kaplan recently missed out on what is arguably the most sought-after prize in post-graduate legal education the 15m contract to provide the LPC to trainees at elite City firms Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith, Lovells, Norton Rose and Slaughter and May. Dubbed the City LPC consortium, earlier this month the five firms decided to renew its contract with BPP, meaning those firms are now potentially out of bounds until 2012. Meanwhile, the College of Law, which also missed out on the City LPC contract, has swallowed up the rest of the magic circle (Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Linklaters) as well as a string of smaller firms such as Berwin Leighton Paisner.
Proctor plays down Nottingham at Kaplans disappointment in missing out on the lucrative City LPC contract. He claims: It was disappointing, but not a severe blow. We were very pleased to be invited to pitch given that we havent even opened in London yet.
Nottingham at Kaplan might have more success in the post-qualification market, where both NLS and Kaplan already have a number of clients including the likes of Freshfields and Slaughters.
For the time being though, Proctor wants to concentrate on the students it has already attracted. For us the first year is all about the students, he enthuses.
And it sounds as though they will not be disappointed. Nottingham at Kaplan has pulled out all the stops to ensure that its facilities, which include a state-of-the-art library, are second to none. The school will also have a dedicated careers service and plans to set up a pro bono programme similar to the one run out of the Nottingham campus.
Additionally, in a bid to help students find their feet in and around Borough Market, the law school is planning tours of the local area, which include tourist hotspots such as the Tate Modern and Shakespeares Globe.
Proctor is keen to dispel ongoing rumours that Nottingham at Kaplan will be bussing down teaching staff from the Midlands. The school will start the academic year with seven tutors, of whom two have relocated to the capital. Additional resource will also be provided by teaching staff who will, he admits, travel down to London on an ad-hoc basis. But Proctor argues that by having access to NLSs pool of tutors, Nottingham at Kaplan is able to offer a wide range of electives right from the outset, including non-corporate subjects such as family law and personal injury courses.
Nottingham at Kaplan will also offer a bridge to practice course. The programme, which permeates through all the electives, is made up of four components including a focus on clients commercial objectives and simulated practice modules.
Although Kaplan is behind the largest online law degree in the US, Nottingham at Kaplan will not be copying the College of Laws plans to completely abolish lectures in favour of i-tutorials. We believe in a blended learning approach using e-learning where appropriate, explains Proctor.
However, one area where Nottingham at Kaplan will be going head-to-head with the College of Law and BPP is LLBs. The College of Law celebrated winning degree-awarding powers last year with a huge fanfare. But as Proctor rightly points out, Nottingham at Kaplan already has this power thanks to its relationship with Nottingham Trent University.
Therefore, as is the case with the College of Law, students who complete both the GDL and LPC at Nottingham at Kaplan will be awarded an LLB. BPP, however, is playing catch-up and is still waiting to find out whether it can secure similar powers.
So why should debt-laden students study the GDL or the LPC in the over-priced capital? The advantage of studying in London is that students will be closer to potential employers. If youre actively looking for a training contract or paralegal opportunities then its very handy to have the firms on your doorstep, explains Proctor.
Proctor is clearly relishing the opportunity to make a success of NLSs entry into London. Lets just hope that missing out on the City LPC consortium mandate is not a bad omen.