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The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has defended its handling of reducing student enrolment costs, after students who enrolled before its decision to slash registration costs were left out of pocket.
The SRA announced its decision to reduce its student enrolment costs earlier this month, saying that it would scrap its £80 student enrolment fee and reduce its Legal Practice Course (LPC) payment from £120 to £15 (9 June 2014).
A spokesperson for the SRA explained that the organisation had tried to warn students that they would incur unnecessary fees if they choose to proceed with their registrations rather than wait until the Legal Services Board ratified the SRA’s proposal.
However, a number of students were still able to access the portal without coming across the SRA’s message.
One student, who enrolled at the very end of November 2013 and who is due to begin the LPC at the Bloomsbury campus of the University of Law, said: “I don’t see why students in my position should be caught out by this change in fees. I am being disadvantaged because I was organised and applied early for my LPC.”
The student explained that on seeing the fee was reduced they contacted the SRA to ask for a refund, only to be told the SRA would not be refunding students who had paid for enrolment previously.
They added: “When I commented on how I thought this was unfair they simply stated that only students who enrol from 1 July onwards will be exempt from the enrolment charges and they cannot offer refunds.
“I then asked whether I could “un-enrol” as such, cancel my LPC application, and just re-apply on 1 July. They said I would not get my money refunded if I did that. They were extremely unhelpful on the telephone and just kept stating that there would be no refunds. We can only wonder what they are doing with all the money!”
An SRA spokesperson said: “We knew that it wouldn’t seem fair to charge some students for enrolment and not others, and did all we could at the time to make students aware of this. This included a warning on the website and asking training providers to highlight the matter.
“We became aware that some students had still managed to access the online enrolment portal without seeing the preceding message. We therefore closed down the portal at that point. We didn’t close it before then because the decision had still to be taken about scrapping enrolment; that wasn’t confirmed until 5 June when the Legal Services Board approved the change.
“We are now looking again at the issue of those students that managed to enrol and pay a fee when they would not have needed to had they waited.”
The student responded: “I don’t recall seeing anything and I’m a very thorough person so I’m sure I read everything before applying and I definitely did not read anything about it on their website.
“If you go on the SRA website now and go to enrol the first thing you see is a warning sign about the changes to the regulations. There is also a note on the application process on the University of Law’s website. Neither of these warning messages was there when I enrolled.”