“From chalk and talk to hands-on action” is how one trainee describes the transition from the academic degree stage to the vocational LPC.
Now in its second year, the LPC is still having its initial problems ironed out – some of the course materials had gaps and these have been filled, but new holes are still being discovered.
However, many of the students who have completed it (and heard horror stories about the Law Society finals) think it is much more useful for the tasks they are given during their traineeship.
From the perspective of law firms the LPC is like a curate's egg; good, even very good, in parts. Although the trainees who have completed the course are generally better-equipped for life in a busy legal practice than their predecessors, it is still early days.
One recruitment partner at a City firm says: “Because there is less straightforward substantive legal education in the course, with the non-law graduates coming with the CPE, we have seen a bit of a knowledge shortfall”.
Opinions from the students, guinea pigs for the new course, vary. One student enthused: “It was a breath of fresh air and the teaching of the compulsory subjects, even if you are not using them in practice, does give you an all-round grounding.”
Another was more critical saying that “you have to wait two terms until you start doing interesting things”.
And although some consider the skills training which covered interviewing, negotiation and advocacy as the most relevant aspect of the course, the standard of the teaching by the practitioners – who are more used to 'doing' than teaching – could vary considerably.
Another issue raised by the majority of the students was that the accounts should be incorporated into the LPC rather than as part of the professional skills course.
One of the reasons cited was the constraints of time involved during the traineeship and another was that it would give them an introduction to the ethical requirements during practice.
Andrew Hodge, head of education and training at City firm Allen & Overy, thinks that with the increasing number of institutions providing the course, it can be difficult to work out how they are faring.
City firms see prospective trainees opting for the College of Law and the better-known institutions. As a result the recruiters do not necessarily receive information about the other institutions.
The advice for future LPC students generally, regardless of institution, is not to be overwhelmed by being handed all of the course materials at once. They must also keep up with the work.
With most of the problems being remedied for the next intake, the course appears to be well-regarded.
The spanner in the works may come from the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (Aclec).
Its recent consultation paper on legal training advocates a more generalist education and training combined with a common training for both sides of the profession.
Hodge, who is also an acting member of the committee of the Legal Education and Training Group, comments that although Aclec is fulfilling its function to ask the difficult questions, “if its proposals are to be implemented, the system would have to undergo pretty radical re-structuring – and on the solicitors' side of the profession, you need to let the LPC settle down”.