As the Law Society slackens its policy regarding entrance to law schools, both students and the profession will benefit from greater competition, argues Jacqueline Siers. Jacqueline Siers is chief executive of BPP Law School
The lifting of the Law Society's moratorium on Legal Practice Course (LPC) places could not have come at a better time for law schools like the BPP.
The Trainee Solicitors Group reversed their position on the issue late last year preferring greater access to the more popular law schools rather than restrictions on student choice that the moratorium inevitably caused.
Whilst some LPC providers, mainly outside London and the South East have had places empty on their courses at the start of each academic year, the experience for providers in London has been quite the opposite. BPP has been full each year it has offered the LPC (since 1994) and has had to turn good quality students away simply because we were up to the capacity, as stipulated by the Law Society.
So why is the timing of the end of the moratorium so good for BPP? To answer that question, you must be made familiar with the history of the law school over the past year.
The BPP has been validated by the Law Society to offer its own LPC (having previously been franchised to Nottingham Law School), and its new course is in place and running well. Extra students will help to develop the course further, for example by offering more electives. It is developing its programmes for the new Professional Skills Course (PSC).
Further, I was appointed chief executive, with full responsibility for a growing team of tutors, support staff, ideas and ambitions for the future provision of law training.
The changes have been excellent for staff development. We have tutors keen to take on the responsibility for new courses.
The investment in staff development, hardware and materials production has been huge, and we are hoping to reap some benefit from having extra students.
Larger student numbers will also enable us to maintain a virtuous circle of investing still more, to improve the attractiveness of our courses to students still further. We are currently permitted 120 students on our full-time LPC and 60 part-time.
Law schools with larger student quotas benefit from higher income from course fees which can be ploughed back into course enhancements.
It seems likely that students' expectations what they get for their money will rise rather than they fall over the next few years.
The larger law schools will be in a better position to give students the quality and diversity of course that they and their future employers expect.
We are well aware that lifting of the moratorium will, perhaps as early as September 1998, mean more competition between law schools.
Just how quickly it happens will depend on whether each law school has access to the extra staff and resources that an expansion in course numbers would demand, and on its ability to convince the Law Society that higher student numbers would not mean a drop in the quality of course provision.
Much will depend on the attitude of the Law Society towards allowing law schools to offer more places on their courses.
It is too early to say whether greater competition will mean fewer law schools offering an LPC. If the 'market' does become more competitive, all the law schools, ourselves included, will certainly have to rise to the challenge if their LPC courses are to survive, and indeed prosper.
The Law Society will no doubt want to make sure that, whatever else happens, LPC students benefit from the change and that there is a continuation of all the hard work undertaken so far in developing a high standard LPC.
We can't disagree with that.