Student enrolments on the full time Legal Practice Course have fallen for the fifth year in a row, according to a report in this week’s Law Society Gazette, leaving nearly half the approved LPC places in England and Wales unfilled. Given the dearth of available training contracts, students are probably right to stay away from the LPC: who wants to invest so much money and a year of your life in a vocational course which prepares you for a job which may not exist?
And yet….I’m interested in what happens to the 1,000s of law graduates who (presumably) still want a career in the law and who would previously have gone on to the LPC and to qualify as a solicitor. Unfortunately, it’s not the case that those who choose to do the LPC are the best qualified – it’s far more likely that they are simply the wealthiest and the most willing and able to take a gamble. The LPC, therefore, is fast becoming a massive, anti-meritocratic barrier to entry. Given the vital role the legal profession plays in our society, this is regrettable to say the least.
The banking crisis and recession only account for part of the fall in training contract numbers. The legal profession is undergoing structural changes and will continue to do so for several years yet. However, that doesn’t mean that, as a society, we need fewer lawyers. What it does mean is that we need different lawyers and far more variety and flexibility in legal training. We also need to recognise that there will be a variety of different legal roles in the future.
Those of us involved in legal education have a two-fold challenge with our current students. We have to prepare them for a world which is changing in unpredictable ways and we also have to give students good careers advice, which strikes the right balance between realism and ambition. The days of virtually automatic progression from LLB to LPC to training contract to qualification are dying, if not dead yet. We therefore have a broader duty as well – it’s time to develop better, more effective and more affordable routes to satisfying legal careers. At present, too many young people are being unnecessarily left behind with feelings of disappointment and failure.