Limiting LPC choice could backfire on firms
29 January 2007
A question many firms are grappling with at the moment is whether or not they should each tie up with just one LPC provider for their future trainees' LPCs.
What firms are concerned about is recouping the investment they have made, in particular where they have sponsored their trainees through their LPCs and possibly CPEs. The imperative for any firm is to have its trainees become as profitable as possible as soon as possible. So there is an understandable desire to have them come off the LPC 'oven-ready'. If a trainee leaves a firm upon qualification, the firm is not going to recoup much of that investment.
So, the question needs to be: will requiring your trainees to do the same LPC enhance or diminish their ability to become profitable?
This requires an honest assessment of how real the perceived advantages to the firm will be and the extent to which these advantages may be offset by any resentment a tie-up may cause with trainees themselves.
One advantage firms tend to see as coming from sending all their trainees to one provider is that it allows the firm to inculcate them into the firm's culture and philosophy while they are on the LPC.
It may be easier to do this if a firm's trainees are in one class, but not all trainees want to study in a rarefied atmosphere. And, given that not all clients are the same, it is no bad thing for students to learn to work and cooperate with a whole range of people.
It doesn't take a bespoke LPC for your future trainees to start getting into the right mindset for when they start with you - you just need to make the effort to keep in touch while they are on the LPC and bring them into the firm during the year to remind them that real life will shortly be beginning.
Another advantage firms may see from a tie-up is that their trainees can start to specialise in the firm's areas of practice while on the LPC, which will make them profitable sooner.
The reality is that a lot of potential trainees feel very uncomfortable about being forced to specialise when they have had no experience of practice: they don't know what suits them and interests them, what they are good at or whether they are going to like the firm.
And is an LPC, even a specialist one, which effectively has only seven months of teaching, really going to be able to deliver that degree of specialisation that is going to make all the difference? Is this what the LPC is meant to do?
You really only learn to become a practitioner when you start practising. The LPC is intended to be the start of this process, not the end. Elective subjects taught over only 10 weeks are intended as an introduction. To expect a person to become an expert in 10 weeks is a big ask, even for a specialist LPC.
What the LPC should do, and does do, is bridge the gap between academic learning and its practical application and start equipping people with the skills they are going to need when they start their training contracts. Specialisation is then about learning the context and detail.
However, one of the main things for a firm to consider when deciding whether to tie up with one LPC provider is whether its future trainees are going to resent the removal of their freedom of choice.
A lot of students want to do their LPC close to home to ease their student debt. They may simply want to be with friends or go to an institution on the basis of its reputation or appeal. The unknown for firms is the degree of resentment that removing that choice will create.
There is a sad reality in today's market for a firm which, in good faith, has invested in a trainee through the LPC (and possibly CPE) and two-year training contact: if the trainee decides not to stay with the firm upon qualification, not only has the firm wasted its investment, it has provided the grounding from which someone else will benefit.