The news that De Montfort University has closed its LPC course in Birmingham and Wolverhampton are its local rivals, and neither has anything like the same take-up among commercial firms. What's more, in a move that can surely not be coincidental, De Montfort has recommended to its students that they transfer over to the College of Law.
The College of Law – stung by its pointed omission from the consortium of LPC providers chosen by the City Eight – has clawed back large parts of its natural constituency. Nottingham Law School, the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice and BPP may have won the most glittering prize, but the attitude of human resource directors and graduate recruitment heads at non-City Eight practices towards the College of Law is, all of a sudden, positive.
More broadly, the De Montfort move signals an impending shakedown in the LPC market – and there is a huge opportunity here for the likes of Cardiff, University of West England (UWE) and Exeter, all of which are rated 'excellent' by the Law Society. UWE in particular shows belated stirrings of ambition; its recent takeover of the De Montfort outfit in Bristol has left it dominant in the South West. Crucially, UWE is based in a major commercial centre as opposed to a backwater, something which is a distinct advantage. There are opportunities, too, for other LPC providers such as Sheffield and Northumbria, which are, in their different ways, displaying energetic responses to the market.
But the De Montfort example underlines the argument that LPC providers do better when at a distance from the universities. (Nottingham Law School may be technically part of Nottingham Trent, but it is culturally independent and has built its brand accordingly.) After all, the customers – which in this context are the commercial law firms, since they pay the fees – see the LPC as being about work, not about being a student.
Legal education providers will have to do some hard strategic thinking on exactly which markets they are servicing, and they will have to be a lot more aggressive in trying to court their customers. Nottingham, Oxford, BPP, UWE and the College of Law will certainly be in the emerging magic circle. The door is not yet closed to the rest, but they had better start gearing up soon.