Replacing the LPC – creating opportunities from the disruption

The world of legal training is facing its biggest shake-up in decades.

Under plans announced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) today (Tuesday 25 April), the traditional pathway followed by thousands of graduates seeking a career in the law each year – the Legal Practice Course (LPC) – will no longer be mandatory before starting a training contract.

Replacing the year-long LPC – currently the most popular route into the legal profession – will be the new Solicitors’ Qualifying Exam (SQE).

Why is this happening? According to the SRA, two words: cost and consistency.

With the LPC costing up to £15,000, a shorter initial training phase may help to hold costs down, the SRA says.

On the consistency issue, around 30 universities and other institutions currently teach the LPC, and have slightly different entry requirements and assessment methods, leading to pass rates that vary across the sector. Although tailoring the programme curriculum to the various requirements of law firms may suit the profession, the SRA believes the LPC has moved too far away from its role as a standardised ‘entrance exam’ – something the new SQE super-exam aims to fix.

The implications are profound. The LPC has become the gold-standard for the legal profession, trusted by students and law firms alike, but legal educators will need to make dramatic changes to reflect the new regime from the regulator.

Many law firms will still require their trainees to undertake a programme which preserves the breadth and rigour of the LPC – a platinum-grade offering that will go well beyond the requirements of the SQE and includes the rigorous technical training in corporate finance, writing, drafting and legal research which their future trainees currently received on the LPC. Many firms will also want their future trainees to continue to have a thorough grounding in business finance and strategy.

With Brexit likely to present a new set of complex challenges for lawyers over the coming decade, sound legal and business education will be valued more highly than ever, so many will see value in the tried-and-tested model we used to train top class legal minds.

Some students and law firms, however, will also be keen to see more cost-effective training models closely aligned to the SQE available. As a constant innovator in legal education, BPP Law School is ideally placed to respond to these calls. We were the first to offer an accelerated LPC, to incorporate business and finance study into our law programmes and to offer a City-focused LPC. The reforms announced today will allow us to create even more bespoke courses, and craft new programmes attuned to the needs of all law firms, many of whom might not have considered sponsoring their future trainees.

The legal profession will face challenges from the SRA changes. Many have criticised the reforms as unnecessary, concerned they may potentially limit the pool of talented graduates entering the legal profession. However, there are opportunities from the disruption to the status quo. Smaller employers will have the chance to reach promising candidates earlier, without having to wait for their LPC training to finish before beginning train and mould their future talent.

The shape and extent of the new qualification is not yet known as details around the SQE’s curriculum and assessment methods remain in short supply. Whatever emerges we will remain at the forefront of education innovation, creating the high-value programmes that will ensure students continue to benefit from well-paid, fulfilling careers in the legal profession.

Professor Peter Crisp, Dean and CEO, BPP University Law School.