Students enrolled on the Legal Practice Course are spending thousands of pounds in pursuit of a legal career that they are "never likely to achieve". Those are the findings of the final report by the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR), which was tasked with reviewing the state of the industry.
Considerable numbers of students are facing stalling legal careers as the number of LPC places significantly exceeds the number of training contracts available. Latest figures show that in 2012-13, there were 6,035 full time and 2,793 part time students enrolled on the LPC, yet only 4,860 training contracts registered. With the average cost of an LPC place just north of £13,000, it appears many students are prepared to throw money at these institutions without the guarantee of a training contract at the end of it.
A bottleneck in the system
The LETR findings claim the issue is creating a "bottleneck in the system" that holds "particular consequences for the development of a diverse and socially representative profession", as expensive course fees and limited training contracts discourage students from poorer backgrounds from applying. The report's authors expressed concern for the thousands of unemployed and debt-ridden LPC graduates, calling the system a "waste of human and economic resources".
Not everyone in the industry is as sympathetic. The Legal Services Board, which recently published a consultation paper in response to the LETR, says: "It's very difficult to accept the argument that there are too many lawyers," adding that the aim of the regulators is to promote competition rather than reduce it as restricting the number of LPC places would do.
For the likes of the 29 institutions offering LPC places, restricting the number of students who can enroll would not make good business sense when there is a clear demand. Even so, some law schools are quick to defend the worthiness of their courses and the employability of their students. BPP Law School (one of the largest private providers of the LPC) recently claimed that 89 per cent of its 2012-13 cohort now had a training contract or other legal work.
Read the small print
But while the number of students clamouring to get places in these law schools remains out of proportion to the number of training contracts, there are signs that the business of legal education may well end up regulating itself, albeit unconsciously. A number of universities have begun dismantling their LPC offerings, the most recent being Oxford Brookes University, which intends to close its LPC course in 2014.
Having fewer institutions offering LPC courses will help to limit the number of students on them. In addition, the number of loans available to students wishing to study the LPC have dwindled in recent years, making it increasingly hard for lawyers-to-be to fund their LPC unless they secure a training contract beforehand and get the firm to pay.
Researchers working on the LETR, who interviewed a number of LPC students, found that those who had been unable to secure training contracts complained about a lack of initial information about the availability and likelihood of obtaining a training contract.
So at the same time, perhaps more should be done by law schools to highlight the risks in applying for an LPC place. Or, perhaps it should be up to students themselves to make sure they're aware of the risks of enrolling on such oversubscribed courses. After all, if you want to be a lawyer, the first thing you should know is how to read the small print.