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27 November 2013
Roger Smith, the Law Society's director of legal education and training, responds to The Lawyer's article on 5 February, "Confusion as LPC ratings are published before completion"
The fruits of a comprehensive review of the Law Society's training strategy agreed by its council two years ago are now becoming apparent. One example of this was the publication on 2 February of reports on Legal Practice Course (LPC) providers, accessible on the Law Society's website (www.lpc.lawsociety.org.uk).
The society's objective in publishing the reports is to increase the transparency of the marketplace. Students, parents, firms and the general public surely have a right to as much information as possible about a decision that will take a year of someone's life and cost a considerable amount of someone's money. The website gives that exact cost; describes the course and its ethos; and gives a range of information, including its grading by the LPC Board.
The Lawyer's criticism, echoing that of the College of Law's Nigel Savage, is that the Law Society has published its information too early. It should have waited until October when the LPC Board would have been able to publish an up-to-date grade, determined during the preceeding couple of years, for all institutions. There is a logic to this position and a college can currently find itself in the position envisaged by Professor Savage. Thus, it could be aware that a recommendation for a change in its grade is awaiting determination by the LPC Board in the near future. This was a disadvantage of publishing all information as available on 1 February.
The board considered that the disadvantages were, however, outweighed by the advantage of publishing as soon as the society had a reasonable critical mass of information to make public. There were a number of justifications. First, publication is primarily for the benefit of those wishing to compare courses for students. As we are approaching the deadlines for next year's courses, the information is needed now by its prime users. Why should they wait another year? Second, the site is absolutely clear about what has been done - explanation is given in detail. Third, once grades are awarded, they tend to leak out into the public domain, not least as the result of journalist investigation. Steadfast maintenance of Trappist silence in such circumstances makes the Law Society look absurd. Finally, grades will be updated just as soon as the board determines them. In the world of the website, such updating can be instant.
At the end of The Lawyer's report was a linked reference to the approval of three institutions to run an LPC aimed at eight City firms. Unmentioned, though relevant, is the approval of similar proposals from the College of Law to differentiate its course so that there is a defined corporate route for those who wish to take it. These represent a further development of policy. The Law Society is seeking to maintain the unity of the profession while giving greater recognition to its undeniable diversity, particularly in relation to large commercial practices which are a world away from practice on the High Street.
Providers are clearly seeking to respond to market pressures and to push to the limit their ability to be flexible with the Law Society's requirements for the course. This is wholly desirable. Engagement by practitioners in the training programme for young recruits is crucially needed and a sign of vitality within the profession to be valued.
The society's aim is to train for a modern profession with a deservedly high reputation for quality. This requires a constant stream of difficult judgements which balance various interests. The Law Society is already implementing procedures to provide for better monitoring of trainees within solicitors' firms. It is requiring more from the universities in relation to qualifying law degrees and considering an audit on what more needs to be done. The LPC may need wholesale reconsideration. The Law Society should be commended in this case for the speed and sensitivity of its response to the demands for change.