9 December 2010 | By Laura Manning
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Kaplan’s radical solution to the law student-job imbalance is dividing opinion
Kaplan Law School’s controversial decision to introduce admissions tests for both its Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), exclusively revealed in the Autumn 2010 edition of Lawyer 2B, was viewed by many would-be lawyers as a noble stand to tackle the massive oversupply of law students.
However, despite the school’s radical move being seen as prudent by some, rival providers saw it as simply the installation of more hoops for students to jump through and an inappropriate way to address the state of the employment market for aspiring lawyers.
Students taking the admissions test will have to endure a selection day, with a presentation and a written examination, topped off with a 10-minute interview.
James Wakefield, head of Kaplan’s Bar Professional Training Course, said: “It may sound rigorous, but this gives us the opportunity to see the strong candidates in action, because often what’s on paper is very different to what the person’s like in real life.”
Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) executive committee member Kevin Poulter raised concerns about such a test jeopardising access and diversity, but went on to describe it as a “brave move”.
He also said that as part of their education review the legal regulators need to look at the number of students enrolling on the LPC, stop validating more LPC providers and reduce placesto make it more competitive. “The JLD’s keen to see the Law Society and SRA [Solicitors Regulation Authority] address the gross shortfall of training contracts compared with LPC places,” commented Poulter. “Let’s hope Kaplan’s initiative is successful in reducing graduate numbers, but not at the expense of worthy candidates who might otherwise succeed.”
But BPP Law School chiefexecutive Peter Crisp described the test as “an unnecessary, extra hurdle”. “What I’d be interested to know,” said Crisp, “is whether Kaplan requires students who have a training contract with one of its exclusive clients to take the admissions test, and if so what happens if they fail? Will they not be accepted on the LPC?”
In the same vein, Bristol Institute of Legal Practice head Steven Dinning said students who embark on the LPC already have the necessary qualifications to build on in order to
“It’s through our rigorous training programme that they develop and fine-tune the skills necessary to become a day-one trainee solicitor,” Dinning argued. “In the circumstances, you have to ask, ’What’s the purpose of further pre-entry testing of postgraduate students?’”
Posing an alternative solution to the numbers problem, Dinning suggested that the SRA and LPC providers should agree to the provision of detailed, accurate and up-to-date information to all potential LPC students during the application process in relation to the cost of legal training, the training contract market and the statistical likelihood of an individual securing
such a contract in the short to medium term.
Dinning added: “The SRA could then concentrate its efforts on assessing the quality of the teaching and learning experience of the LPC students at each provider and publish detailed accounts of its findings, thus enabling potential applicants to make informed choices about where to study.”
College of Law (CoL) chief Nigel Savage, meanwhile, described the admissions test as a “further hurdle”.
He added: “I think this is a cynical attempt to generate a business and ultimately make money out of the students.”
While Savage conceded that it is, to some degree, an interesting initiative, he added it would be for the market to decide whether it will address the problem, and alternatively suggested that change might need to happen at a higher level.
“The whole system needs looking at,” he said. “The training contract’s ablockage. After going through a law degree and LPC, a student should be given a professional status why not
acknowledge that and let them work in firms as associate solicitors, building up their work experience until full qualification?”
Savage added that, although the Law Society and SRA are now addressing the issue, they have neglected the system for 10 years.
He believes that an overhaul of the system to tackle the employment needs of the legal services market will ultimately be the best way to improve the numbers.
With SRA figures showing a staggering 9,337 students embarking on the LPC in 2008-09, while only 5,809 new training contracts were registered with the regulator in the year ending 31 July 2009, perhaps Kaplan’s move will help to improve law students’ chances as they set off in the legal world.
However, as Savage commented: “If you have half decent A-levels, an undergraduate law degree or GDL and then get onto the LPC, by then the system should have weeded out those who are not competent to become lawyers. If not there’s something wrong with the systemand we need a strategic solution, not just another sticking plaster.”