Opinion divided over ‘two-tier’ City LPCs

Clifford Chance’s plans to launch a fast-track LPC have left many students asking why such an offering is not available for all ­aspiring solicitors.

Clifford Chance’s plans to launch a fast-track LPC have left many students asking why such an offering is not available for all aspiring solicitors.

As reported by The Lawyer last week (20 September), the magic circle firm is introducing the condensed course in conjunction with the College of Law (CoL), commencing January 2012. CoL will also roll out a ­similar offering for Linklaters from next year.

Clifford Chance’s course will last seven months, including a one-month e-learning foundation course, as opposed to the usual 10 months.

One of the advantages of slashing the length of the LPC and running two courses per year, as is the case with Clifford Chance, is that it fits better with City firms’ two-cohort model.

However, the move towards offering the ­accelerated course to just a select number of students with City training contracts has sparked fears over the creation of a two-tier legal education system.

This is especially so as the £12,000 cost of the LPC is already seen by many as one of the biggest barriers to students from non-traditional backgrounds from breaking into the ­profession.

Former CoL LPC student Miranda Mannering feels it is unfair that the fast-track course is not available to all LPC students.

“If you want to work in the City, as many of my friends do, the fast-track LPC would be great, as you can get stuck in faster,” she says. “But only offering it to trainees going into the City disadvantages those who’d like to start their training contracts earlier so they can start paying back their loans sooner.”

Fellow CoL student Usman Malik agrees. He says: “Without giving all students the choice between a fast-track and a full-length course the creation of a two-tier system is inevitable.”

CoL’s arch-rival BPP Law School was the first to launch an accelerated course for the so-called ’City consortium’ of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith, Hogan Lovells legacy firm Lovells, Norton Rose and Slaughter and May. BPP’s fast-track LPC welcomed its third cohort of students last month (August).

BPP has confirmed that it plans to roll out accelerated courses for more of its City firm clients and is seriously considering opening them up to all students.

In contrast, CoL currently has no plans to extend its offering, although its director of business development Sarah Hutchison says that if there was a demand from students for a shorter course the college would be “open to the idea, provided that we can maintain quality”.

One of the potential problems of introducing a condensed LPC for all students is that some may find themselves struggling with the greatly increased workload.

For example, one LPC tutor questioned whether someone with a 2:2 degree from a less reputable university would be able to cope with the pace of the fast-track course, which requires students to be in class five days a week.

In recognition of the sheer volume of work involved, at least one member of the City consortium requires its future trainees to enter into an agreement that bars them from having a part-time job during the LPC.

Mannering and Usman claim they could have done the LPC in seven months, although Mannering argues that some students are likely to need the full 10 months to fully comprehend the accounts module, for example.

One student who is currently on BPP’s fast-track LPC agrees, and claims that it is his future training contract that is keeping him motivated.

“Given the intensity of the course, if I didn’t have a training contract in place or wasn’t completely sure about training as a solicitor I’d be half tempted to give up,” he admits.

With seven City firms already signed up for ­accelerated LPCs and BPP planning to roll out similar programmes for more of its clients next year, it looks as if this is a trend that is only going to gain momentum.