The SRAs plan to split LPC in two receives a mixed reception
26 October 2007
The Solicitors Regulation Authoritys (SRA) review of legal education and training has been going on for so long that it is tempting to switch off every time someone mentions it. But after what feels like a lifetime of consultations, the regulator is finally pressing ahead with significant changes to the LPC.
Substantial reforms to the LPC are going to be introduced in 2009, meaning they will potentially impact penultimate-year law students and non-law finalists. So before you flick to the next page, we suggest you read on to find out how the changes might affect you.
Although we now have a clearer idea of how the LPC will be taught, many questions remained unanswered. A law firm training source said: Its a very uncertain time for firms, students and LPC providers. It must be terrible for students because nobody knows whether the changes are going to help or hinder them.
Meanwhile, Phil Knott, the executive director of Nottingham Law School (NLS), believes the changes are going to be more gradual. Its not going to be a big bang. It will take a while for the market to adapt. But law schools and firms alike are going to have to decide which changes to implement, he explained.
As first reported on Lawyer2B.com last month (12 September), the SRA has given the green light to split the compulsory courses on the LPC from the electives (optional subjects). At this stage it is worth noting that these changes are optional and therefore most law schools are expected to still offer both parts of the LPC as one single course.
Splitting the LPC in two will enable some firms to adopt the accountancy model, so students can start their training contracts as soon as they complete the compulsory courses and take the electives while they train on the job. One of the advantages of this structure is that the optional courses could potentially be taught in-house and therefore be tailored to make them more relevant to the work a firm specialises in. However, this would obviously only work if a firm had a large enough trainee intake to make the course viable economically.
Future changes to the LPC will be driven by the firms and law schools. Currently, though, there does not appear to be much appetite for overhauling the year-long course. Linklaters trainee development partner Simon Firth agreed and said that he does not anticipate major changes being introduced. I anticipate that most students will still complete the entire course before they start their training contracts, said Firth. I also dont see us bringing the electives in-house as its very labour intensive.
I dont see us moving towards the accountancy model. The disadvantage of this is that to train people youll have to take them out of practice. If theyre working on a very large deal or case, thats very difficult to achieve and will put trainees under a lot of pressure.
Meanwhile, another training source at a large City firm said: As far as the LPC is concerned, were just going to wait and see. Were happy with the current arrangement. Were also not big enough to bring the electives in-house, but we may be forced into doing it.
The new structure also has potential benefits for students who fund the LPC themselves, as they will be able to spread the cost of the LPC by delaying the electives until a later date. But NLSs Knott warned students to be wary of completing the LPC in two parts because it might put them at a disadvantage in the employment market.
Indeed, the firms interviewed by Lawyer 2B agreed and said that students should only defer their electives if they cannot afford to take them immediately after the compulsory part of the LPC.
The changes described above, however, are only one half of the story, because the SRA is yet to finalise potential changes to the training contract, which are proving to be a lot more controversial. As first reported on Lawyer2B.com (31 May), a pilot scheme that was due to start last month has been delayed by a year to September 2008.
Under the new structure the training contract will be replaced with a more flexible period of work-based experience, during which trainees will be assessed regularly against a clear set of standards.
This period of work-based learning can be completed in just 16 months. But as Dechert director of training Bernard George said: Will you have to do an extended training contract if youre going to be doing months of study on your electives during your training contract? They [the SRA] havent finally decided that last point yet.
There have been so many stops and starts in this review that many people thought the reforms were never going to be introduced. But now it looks as though major changes are just around the corner. So as Knott put it, students should sit up and listen.