Before starting your glorious career as a solicitor, you'll need to jump through the unavoidable hoop that is the LPC.
The LPC is intense, costly, and not a guaranteed pass to a training contract; and from 2021 it's being pushed aside in favour of the shiny new SQE.
Hasta la vista, LPC
Though the LPC has long been a crucial step on the epic journey to becoming a solicitor, it hasn’t been immune from criticism, particularly due to the variation between institutions that offer it. With that in mind, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced the replacement of the LPC with a one-size-fits-all, centrally managed Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). This all-important ‘superexam’ comes in two parts, the first of which is in theory open to anyone with a degree. The SRA has stated that the SQE will be rolled out from autumn 2021 and that anyone starting a law course before then (including the LPC) won’t necessarily have to do the SQE.
So if you’re considering starting the LPC in 2021, have a gander at the information below. But do remember that very soon the LPC may no longer be offered or may not be offered as widely as it is now. Read our feature on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination for more, and to work out which route to qualification is right for you.
The nuts and bolts
It’s important to remember that the LPC is not an academic course – it’s vocational. Treat it like the first year of your professional life. The LPC requires good time management, organisation and preparation, and even though some providers have open-book exams, it's far from advisable to be sitting at your desk with an exam paper in front of you searching furiously through the textbooks at your side. Keep on top of things as the course progresses, and perhaps even think about sharing the revision workload with classmates.
It's not as stimulating as an undergraduate degree, but then again, it's not supposed to be; it’s meant to get you ready to start a training contract. With classes on semicolons and split infinitives, it can feel like you’re back at school, but you’ll pick up plenty of tricks and tips along the way, including:
- How to conduct an interview (usually a strong handshake accompanied by the offer of a beverage);
- How to minimise tax exposure – it’s about avoidance, not evasion (apparently);
- How many directors it takes to make a board meeting (this isn’t a bad joke);
- When litigation documents must be served on the other side – you'll curse the day bank holidays were invented;
- Why it's never a good idea to dabble with clients' money; and
- How to make sure your client isn't a money-launderer.
Virtually all the law schools that run the LPC have a raft of interesting extracurricular opportunities on offer. For example, pro bono work is easy enough to come by and can range from getting involved in the school's legal clinic to undertaking projects with external organisations.
The numbers game
First of all, the good news: at the last count, the number of training contracts available was higher than it was any point in the last decade. A total of 5,811 were registered in 2017-18, a rise of 1.6% on the year before and the highest number since the 2008 financial crisis. The bad news? Covid-19 has already prompted an even more dramatic recession, which will almost definitely have an effect over the next few years.
In recent years there have been 5,000 to 6,000 people doing the LPC each year, so you might think there will now be training contracts for all. But you'd be wrong: what you have to remember is that you’re also competing for traineeships with past law school grads and people who are yet to start or complete the LPC – that means traineeships remain very oversubscribed. If you go back and add up and subtract the number of traineeships from the number of LPC grads, you’ll discover there are potentially over 10,000 people still searching for training contracts.
The new 'superexam', the SQE, is in part being introduced to help remedy this oversupply of law school grads vying for traineeships. Its focus on gaining work experience and the splitting of exams so that half are done after your traineeship are welcome developments in this regard. But the popularity of law as a profession is not going to change and the number of available traineeships will always be limited. So competition of traineeships will remain fierce. Just take a look at the application numbers: some firms get over 100 applications for each trainee position.
Money on my mind
It’s a competitive market and not just for LPC students. Law schools are competing with each other for students and some providers are doing better than others. In the past few years, Oxford Brookes, Aberystwyth, the University of Hertfordshire and Plymouth have all shuttered their LPC programmes, citing a decline in the number of applications. On the other hand, BPP and the University of Law have opened several new centres up and down the country to expand their empires: between them ULaw and BPP were responsible for a whopping 78% of LPC enrolments in 2015/16. More schools outside the major city centres are to be welcomed, as they allow students the less-expensive option of studying from home and they generally cost less than their City counterparts.
Wherever you choose to do it, the LPC is an expensive affair. Unless you’ve been hooked up by a commercial law firm that’s sponsoring you, it’s time to dig deep. Around £11,500 is par for the course at most providers but BPP and ULaw ask you to cough up over £16,000 for their London courses. One reason the SRA has given for the introduction of the SQE is the prohibitive cost for some of undertaking the LPC without sponsorship. The pricing for the SQE will indeed be significantly lower than that of the LPC, but you'll have to factor in prep courses as well, so the consideration of whether to take the punt on expensive courses will remain. For a comprehensive comparison of course fees look at the LPC providers table. For advice on how to fund your trip to law school, see our feature on How to fund law school.
Law schools are businesses, and many sell the LPC to prospective solicitors and welcome as many people as they can without compromising on quality. With the introduction of the SQE, we think the same will remain true of the provision of the relevant preparatory courses. At present, a 2:2 degree will pretty much guarantee you a place on the LPC, but finding a firm that will want to train you afterwards is an entirely different proposition. When faced with a 2:2 candidate, firms usually expect a pretty good reason for the grade (i.e. valid extenuating circumstances), some outstanding features on your CV or, if you’re a more ‘mature’ candidate, a strong first career under your belt.
Make the right choice
When and how
Timetables can vary wildly between providers, and while some have taken advantage of the fact they're allowed to condense teaching into three or even two days, either mornings or afternoons, others still require attendance four days a week alongside a sizeable chunk of self-study. Term dates and even the length of the whole course can vary substantially. Students can opt to spend anywhere between seven months and five years studying for the qualification. Think realistically about what timetable structure will fit most easily into your life. Also think about whether or not you will need a job during the course because, while all providers are reluctant to acknowledge that students will be able to fit in a part-time job, they are increasingly aware that this may be unavoidable, so the majority offer the choice of studying part-time.
The vast majority of providers examine their students using open-book exams and written assessments. A notable minority have stuck with the closed-book approach. Although it's easy to feel drawn to the open-book approach, the timeframes are such that you have very little time to trawl through books in the exams.
For every provider at which students must search plaintively for a quiet study corner, there is another where they can spread out in blessed peace in their own office. Take the LPC at one university and you’ll belong to a proper law faculty surrounded by chilled-out undergrads and deep-thinking postgrads; elsewhere, leather sofas and acres of plate glass might make you think you’ve strayed into the offices of a City firm. IT is massively important on the LPC, so consider whether the institution offers endless vistas of the latest flat screens or a few dusty computers in a basement.
A large institution may appeal to students keen to chug anonymously through the system. Conversely, the intimacy of fewer students and easily accessible tutors may tip the scales in favour of a smaller provider. Some places are known to attract corporate types destined to be City high-flyers; others cultivate the talents of those headed for regional practice. Still, others purport to attract a broad a mix of students, so the commercially minded can mingle with future high-street practitioners.
Money and location
Fees vary and so do the providers’ policies on the inclusion of the cost of textbooks and Law Society membership, etc. Even if you have sponsorship, living expenses still need to be taken into account. The cost of living in London can be an especially nasty shock – according to one students website, the typical yearly living costs for students in the capital is a whopping £15,180. Plenty of students find that tight finances restrict their choice of provider. Although it might seem reprehensible to some, living with the parents will obviously save you a packet. If you're desperate to strike out on your own (or you haven’t lived with your parents for some time), then it’s worth considering what you like or don’t like about your university or GDL provider and whether you want to prolong your undergraduate experience or escape it. When weighing up providers in large cities, find out whether the campus is in the city centre or out on a ring road.
A current trend among providers is the offer of a top-up LLM, with students using their LPC credits to count towards a Master's of Law. Students at ULaw can top up their LPC with an LLM in Legal Practice or an MSc in Law, Governance, Risk and Compliance. We should add that we're not aware of law firms placing any particular extra value on such qualifications per se, though the extra writing and research skills you gain may be valuable and some firms have made their firm-specific LPC and Master's-level programme. Some providers also allow you to turn your GDL and LPC into an LLB, though again we're not aware of this increasingly employability in any way.
Social mix and social life
Hip, student-infested cities such as Nottingham and Bristol are always a lot of fun, but the bright lights of the capital may be irresistible. Experience tells us that compared to those in other cities, many students in London tend to slink off the moment classes end rather than socialise into the evening.
The effects of Covid-19 will have an effect on all aspects of studying: technology and the possibility of remote learning will become more important than ever. Take the time to research what precautions providers are taking to ensure safe, effective delivery of courses.
The Central Applications Board administers all applications for full-time LPCs. The application timetable has been overhauled in response to the fact that several course providers have introduced January and February start dates. LPC admissions will now be processed on a rolling basis with the application form available from early October. Beginning early November applications are sent to law schools week by week and the course providers may make offers to students immediately.
Obviously the later the application the less secure a place, but it should be remembered that almost every school will have more validated places than enrolled students on both its full-time and part-time courses. Some of the most popular institutions must be placed first on the LawCabs application form – see our LPC providers table – but students can apply for up to three. Check also whether your university, GDL provider or future law firm has any agreement or relationship with a provider. Applications for part-time courses should be made directly to the individual provider.