Postgraduate: investing in the future
8 January 2008
The LPC forms the vocational stage of your training to qualify as a solicitor. The compulsory year-long course is designed to equip you for practice. As Suzanne Robson, a trainee at Lovells, explains:
Law in practice is applying the law to real-life situations whereas studying law [at degree level] is purely academic.
Travers Smith trainee Matthew Coppin agrees: Practising law is focussed on finding a way around problems. Its in stark contrast to writing essays at university, where much of the time is spent analysing just the problems.
The LPC is not assessed centrally, so to apply you must go through the Central Applications Board (CAB) (www.lawcabs.ac.uk). You need to submit your application
in the autumn prior to the September in which you wish to start your LPC. You are permitted to apply to three law schools. The closing date is usually early December.
Despite the fact that you will have to pay thousands of pounds to do the course, having the cash does not guarantee you a place. Providers usually expect a 2:1 degree (although it is not impossible to get a place with a lesser degree class). So you will have to sell yourself and do not forget that you will also be asked to provide an academic reference.
The LPC consists of...
Compulsory subjects: business law and practice; property law and practice; and civil and criminal litigation.
Core areas: ethics context (professional conduct and client care); skills context (advocacy, interviewing and advising, writing and drafting and practical legal research); taxation context; principles of EU law; and probates and administration.
Pervasive subjects: professional conduct and client care; the Human Rights Act; accounts; EU Law; revenue law.
Elective (optional) subjects: students are required to choose three electives from a range of subjects. The electives on offer vary from one law school to another, so make sure you choose an institution that teaches the subjects related to the area of law you want to practice.
Teaching methods usually include small classes, larger lectures and tutorials, although many providers are increasingly making use of web-based learning. Indeed, the College of Law, which has branches across the country, is in the final stages of scrapping face-to-face lectures in favour of i-tutorials.
Another trend that is sweeping the post-graduate legal education market is topping the LPC up into a Masters in Law. This is being offered by a number of law schools including the College of Law, Oxford Institute of Legal Practice (OxILP) and London Metropolitan University.
Meanwhile, the College of Law now has the power to awards students who complete its law conversion course LPC with an LLB. At the time this careers guide went to press, the College of Laws arch rival BPP Law School was waiting to be awarded degree awarding powers.
Choosing a law school
The LPC is run by a number of dedicated law schools and universities throughout England and Wales. As with qualifying law degrees, the course will vary from one institution to the next. Teaching methods, class sizes and the range of electives will differ. Therefore it is important to find an institution offering electives that fit your career interests.
It is also important to think about location. Although studying the LPC in London is inevitably going to be more expensive, there are certain advantages to being in closer proximity to the City especially if you need to look for a training contract while on the course.
Some law firms specify which institution you should attend or have preferred LPC providers. For instance, the College of Law is the choice LPC provider to a string of firms including Allen & Overy, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Clifford Chance and Linklaters. Meanwhile, BPP provides the LPC to the so-called City LPC consortium, which comprises Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith, Lovells, Norton Rose and Slaughter and May, as well as Macfarlanes.
Nottingham at Kaplan Law School, which launched a brand-new London campus in September 2007, has a contract with Chicago-based Mayer Brown. Such agreements enable institutions to tailor their courses to make them more relevant to the types of work the law firms clients focus on.
When you are picking an LPC provider, it is worth finding out what grades it has obtained from the SRA. All law schools are inspected by the SRA every three years. They are assessed and graded in six areas: assessment; leadership and management; learning and resources; quality assurance and enhancement; teaching and learning the curriculum; and students and their support. The highest mark an LPC provider can be awarded is commendable practice.
How much will it all cost?
Course fees for the LPC can vary enormously depending on where you choose to study and can be more than an eye-watering 10,000. Unless you are lucky enough to have wealthy parents willing to fund you, the chances are that, after completing your degree, you will not have this kind of money in your bank account or stashed under the mattress, so will be unable to afford to pay these fees yourself.
Thankfully, there are a number of options available. The most attractive one is undoubtedly to persuade a law firm to shell out the cash for you. But this will only happen if you secure a training contract in advance. Sponsorship typically includes payment of the LPC fee itself, plus a maintenance grant of up to 10,000 to cover your living costs. Lawyer 2B magazine regularly contains a pullout, which lists how much different firms contribute towards the cost of the LPC and, where necessary, the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
If you decide to fund the LPC yourself, then keep an eye on Lawyer2B.com, which often has details on alternative sources of funding such as career development loans and bursary schemes.
Is the qualification process all about to change?
The SRA has been toying with the idea of overhauling the qualification process for several years. The latest proposal, which is yet to be piloted, is to slash the amount of time it takes to train as a solicitor by 12 months. This will be achieved by disengaging the compulsory courses on the LPC from the electives (optional subjects), meaning that the year-long course would take just six months to complete.
Meanwhile, the training contract will be replaced with a more flexible period of work-based experience, during which trainees will be regularly assessed against a clear set of standards.
By the time some of you are in a position to apply for your training contracts, these changes are likely to have become reality. Although you should keep up-to-date with the SRAs plans, it is not advisable to delay your career in the hope that it may one day become faster and cheaper to gain your legal qualification.
Converting to law
The GDL and the Common Professional Exam (CPE) are the academic qualifications that transform non-law graduates into potential lawyers. The SRA and Bar Council recognise both qualifications so they are, in effect, the same.
For the sake of simplicity, throughout this guide we will refer to both as the GDL or conversion course. Once you have completed the year-long GDL, you are on the same footing as a law graduate and will be able to embark on the LPC or Bar Vocational Course. Given that the GDL is a three-year course squeezed into a years study, it is not for the faint-hearted. You will sprint through the seven foundations of legal knowledge criminal law, equity and trusts, EU law, tort, property law and public law and the pace is extremely demanding. Applications for the course are made through the CAB. Application forms are normally available from November, with the closing date around February. Again, you will find that there is tough competition for places and most applicants will have at least a 2:1 from their first degree.
The course is not cheap and you should be prepared to pay more than 7,000 at some colleges, especially the London-based ones. However, as is the case with LPC students who secure training contracts, you may be able to receive sponsorship from future employers that will cover the course fees and living costs.