The Leader column

There is a constant refrain on the part of recruitment partners at law firms. It goes something like this: Students – bright, no commercial awareness, legal knowledge frankly ropey. Oh, and increasingly expensive, thanks to the salary wars.

It is this frustration that is behind the so-called City LPC. Thanks to the efforts of the likes of Melvyn Hughes at Slaughter and May and David Lewis at Norton Rose, the City Eight – Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Herbert Smith, Linklaters & Alliance, Lovells, Norton Rose and Slaughter and May – are about to get a shiny new LPC ‘relevant’ to their practices. If, that is, it gets accredited – one insider has voiced a preference for judicial review if the Law Society squashes it, and it is not entirely clear if he was joking. But assuming it goes ahead, the City LPC will be running at Nottingham Law School, BPP and the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice next year.

Yet one wonders if the City Eight are using the LPC to address the deficiencies in the undergraduate system. It’s an open secret among legal education providers that the LPC has become a remedial course. The key issue revolves around ignorance of contract law – typically taught in an undergraduate’s first year, and forgotten amid the fug at the student bar.

Apologists for the current liberal law degrees argue that students should be allowed intellectual exploration, as if a vocational element were in diametric opposition to this. The apologists also protest that 50 per cent of law students do not end up as lawyers. To which the rejoinder is simple: 50 per cent of them do, and begin their careers knowing little of use. This is not a City issue; it affects all firms. Ironically, CPE students are increasingly being perceived as having the advantage. There they are, getting all the intellectual exploration they want in their first degree, and then off they go for a year to swot up on basic legal principles just before the LPC.

It’s early days, but the word is that none of the pepped-up LPC courses proposed are radically different from those already in existence, which suggests a fudge. But it would have been nice to see the top City firms address the issue of undergraduate legal education. Not one has been bold enough to criticise the traditional universities. Taking on the old alma mater? That would be expecting too much.

Catrin Griffiths, editor