The Plymouth problem: does the small-scale LPC have a future?

At times you might be forgiven for believing that there are only half a dozen LPC providers in the country.

BPP and the University of Law (ULaw) immediately spring to mind as the big players. Kaplan, City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court School of Law), Nottingham Law School, the Bristol Institute of Legal Practice at UWE and one or two others all provide their fair share of trainees to the Square Mile and doubtless get a few nods of recognition as well.

In fact, no fewer than 28 institutions run the LPC. However, that number will shortly be 27.

The news that Plymouth University has scrapped its LPC for 2014/15, citing a decline in student numbers, is interesting because it is a rare example of an institution abandoning the course.

Plymouth is only the second to do it in recent memory. The Oxford Institute of Legal Practice (OxILP) also withdrew from the market this time last year.

Like Plymouth, it cited falling student numbers as its rationale: “Applications have declined by over 50 per cent in the last five years and demand is expected to fall further, which is a situation mirrored across the sector,” Oxford Brookes’ pro vice-chancellor and humanities and social sciences dean Anne-Marie Kilday said at the time (8 Mar 2013). ULaw stepped in and has taken over OxILP’s LPC for 2013/14, but no decision has yet been made as to the longer-term future of the course in Oxford. 

“How many LPC providers will there be in five years?” asks an insider at one of the larger law schools. “That’s a good question. If OxILP can’t make a go of it with 80 students then you do wonder. You’ve got some providers with 20 to 30 students. I don’t think that’s sustainable. Whether some of these smaller operations, which are essentially public sector providers attached to university law departments, will keep going is open to question.” 

Indeed, Plymouth was validated to take 80 students but admits that it has fewer than 20 enrolled for the 2013/14 academic year, and the question of how many other of the smaller providers are in a similar position naturally arises. 

If others do vanish from the LPC market it will be a shame, as these smaller providers perform a valuable service. For starters, the departure of Plymouth from the scene leaves Bournemouth and Bristol as the nearest options for Cornwall and Devon students wanting to stay ‘local’. And as anyone who’s ever holidayed in the region will know, Cornwall to Bristol is further than you think.

Moreover, the smaller providers provide a different sort of service to ULaw, BPP et al. They tend to cater to students more interested in practicing on the high street than in the City.

Plymouth’s LPC had ties with local firms built up over many years. Those will now be severed: a loss of a valuable resource for students looking to practise in the region. 

It is unlikely that the smaller providers will vanish from the scene entirely. The fact that so many have persevered with the LPC despite relatively small student numbers demonstrates the value they place on the course. Most are protected to a certain extent by the fact that the LPC is part of a suite of courses in a larger law school.

Additionally, each university has a home-grown pool of LLB students with residual loyalty to the institution (and to whom they offer discounts). Some have also carved out a particular niche that they can exploit. The University of Wolverhampton, for example, has particularly strong relationships with law schools in Trinidad and gets a lot of students from the island.

The fact remains, however, that if application numbers continue to fall, more universities across the country will start to ask, ‘is the LPC really worth it?’

At some point, they may decide that it’s not.

The LPC providers
Aberystwyth University
Anglia Ruskin University
Birmingham City University
Bournemouth University
Bristol Institute of Legal Practice, UWE
Cardiff Law School
University of Central Lancashire
City Law School
De Montfort University
University of Hertfordshire
University of Huddersfield
Kaplan Law School
University of Law
Leeds Metropolitan University
Liverpool John Moores University
London Metropolitan University
Manchester Metropolitan
Northumbria University
Nottingham Law School
University of Plymouth (until Sept 14)
University of Sheffield
University of South Wales
University of Staffordshire
Swansea University
University of West London
University of Westminster
University of Wolverhampton