Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Legal Practice Course: The Lex Lowdown

The Legal Practice Course: The Lex Lowdown

The Legal Practice Course is the final mandatory qualification required before commencing a training contract. It’s also a considerable financial commitment, especially in the light of constant hikes in tuition fees. For that reason, you are well-advised to do as much research as you can – so read on!

If you’ve made the decision to pursue a career as a solicitor, the next step for a graduate is to enrol on the LPC (except for non-Law students who must first take the GDL conversion course). There are several different courses and providers in the market, but all of them cover the same core content required by the profession’s standards body, the Solictors Regulation Authority.

Legal obligation

The LPC is an integral part of the process of becoming a solicitor in England and Wales. It is a vocational course and is supposed to prepare you for life at any law firm, from niche family practice to international commercial giant. Your application to study the LPC needs to be made the year before you intend to start the course. This will typically be during your final year if you are a law undergraduate. For those taking the conversion route into law (non-law graduates), your application will usually be made during the year you complete the graduate diploma in law (GDL).

Costly endeavour

At the moment, there are roughly 40 LPC providers, all vying with each other to tempt you to spend a year at their institution. The cost of doing the LPC full time ranges from around £10,000 to over £16,000, and in return you will be taught everything (well, nearly everything) you’ll need to know to become a practising solicitor. For those who have already secured a training contract, course fees may be paid by your future employer, and some firms also stump up maintenance grants. If your future firm isn’t that generous, you can try your hand at obtaining cash elsewhere. For example, the Law Society publicises various bursary schemes – but be warned, the competition is incredibly fierce. Perhaps also consider taking the LPC part-time, which will provide you with enough spare time to continuing earning some money and therefore help to ease the financial burden. Funds are only available for the most deserving and committed. There is also a diversity access scheme for talented people whose route to becoming a solicitor is made difficult because of a disability or social circumstances. The application for both schemes usually commences in February. See the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) of the Law Society website (www.lawsociety.org.uk) for more details.

Are you sure?

Without the financial security of knowing you have a training contract at the end of the LPC, there are some difficult questions to be answered before you fire off your application to law school. The Law Society sets out some important points to reflect on (see box, ‘Thinking it over’). Once you’ve considered these elements, there are some other things to think about, namely: how do you go about choosing which law school you want to attend, and how can you really be sure that law is the career for you? Well, the second part’s the easy(ish) bit. The best way to find out about life as a solicitor is to do some legal work experience, through firm vacation schemes and open days, and also by talking with those currently training or practising as lawyers. If you are debating between qualifying as a solicitor or a barrister, then it’s also worthwhile undertaking a ‘mini-pupillage’ at a set of chambers to get a flavour of the Bar.

Choosing a provider

Most LPC providers maintain close links with law firms, which can be of huge benefit to students as these firms will be feeding some of their knowledge and experience of practice into the study programme. There are many ways in which providers work together with firms; it may be through designing bespoke courses for particular firms, or by making arrangements whereby certain firms will come in to give students careers advice, or to provide training in commercial awareness. So if you haven’t already secured a training contract, it would be worth spending some time researching whether a particular provider has connections with any firm (or firms) you are interested in training at.

However, those candidates who already have training contracts lined up before they start law school may not have an option as to which law school they attend. A firm may stipulate that future trainees only attend an institution which offers certain subjects. Indeed, bespoke courses are on the rise. Several firms have an agreement with BPP Law School, so all their future trainees (who haven’t already completed the LPC) undertake a specially designed LPC at BPP. Many other firms have opted for customised courses at The University of Law, meaning that students will take an LPC specifically tailored to life at their future firm. This means that students will be taught in firm-specific groups and get the chance to work on precedents (i.e. draft documents) used in real matters handled by their future employers.

Thinking it over

Spending upwards of £10,000 on anything is a huge decision to make, so if you are thinking about applying for the LPC, the matter shouldn’t be taken lightly. The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) of the Law Society urges prospective LPC applicants to be mindful of the following points before applying:

  • Successful completion of the LPC does not guarantee a training contract;
  • If you don’t have an offer of a training contract before starting the LPC, you should assess how realistic your chances are of getting one;
  • Not all firms will pay for the LPC (and GDL if applicable) if you are offered a training contract. And those that do pay course fees may not do so retrospectively if you are offered a training contract whilst enrolled at law school;
  • Not all lawyers are rich, very few are. Even once qualified, the debt payments continue and most lawyers are still paying off debt years after qualification;
  • Consider full-time or part-time study options as well as the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) route to qualification as a solicitor. Although the CILEX route may take longer, it will be a less expensive route to qualification and;
  • Speak to people currently on the LPC, or those who have recently completed it, about the difficulties in obtaining a training contract.