Too many LPC places, not enough training contract vacancies; It’s a big problem. I’m not going to look for blame; I don’t really think anyone is massively at fault. For the colleges of law it’s simply a mater of supply and demand.
If there are students who want to take the LPC we can’t blame colleges for accepting them. For all they know the candidate in question could get a training contract, and the LPC can be useful in other legal roles. For example recently I’ve been seeing a lot of job adverts for paralegal / legal assistant roles which states “LPC graduates desired”.
They could perhaps be a little stricter with their entry requirements, but that’s about it. The law colleges are a business (edit the CoL is a charity). We need to remember that and not think of them in the same way we would a university. They need to make money and expand.
Students also have the right to follow their dreams and try and “make it” in their dream career. Even if they know their chances may not be great; it’s their choice to make.
So to balance out this “too many Legal Practice Course graduates” problem I believe there should be an additional testing phase after the LLB or GDL. This testing could be similar to the LSATs that American lawyers need to pass. Let me explain in a little more detail. LSAT stands for Law School Admission Test and it’s designed to assess reading comprehension, logic, and verbal reasoning skills (examples of questions below).
The LSAT needs to be passed before the student can get into law school. If we had it in the UK then a candidate who doesn’t have the raw ability to become a solicitor won’t get the required results, and therefore won’t be able to do the LPC. This is because the skills the LSAT tests are very closely linked (I believe) to being a good solicitor. It would save weaker candidates money (and time) in the long term.
It would also do something arguably more important. It would eliminate people who would have got a training contract because of family connections alone. This would mean future solicitors would be in their current job because of what they know, not who they know. It makes the process more about ability. It would also give law firms more criteria on how they choose their candidates since they would be able to ask about your LSAT scores.
This would be beneficial because it would make sure students who only had a good memory, or were just good at passing university exams wouldn’t make the cut unless they also had the logical & reasoning skills too. This would prevent the sort of solicitors who are just like a human legal directory. Legal problem input – legal solution output. Some solicitors (and students with training contracts) I’ve been in contact with could even be better described as legal machines. Technically very good but perhaps not always understanding the essence of a legal problem, or being able to see logical alternative solutions (not saying they do a bad job!)
To me that’s what being a good solicitor should be all about; finding creative solutions and arguments to do the best job they can to help clients. I truly believe that candidates with superior verbal reasoning and comprehension skills are more likely to be this kind of solicitor.
The LSAT (or new equivalent) wouldn’t just help prevent the LPC graduate overpopulation, but would help improve the overall quality of solicitors. It could be heavily modified to test the core skills required of a solicitor (I may write a blog post about what could be in this test in the future). These skills are something which have been put secondary to legal knowledge for too long. And I believe this notion of “legal knowledge = a good solicitor” is in part why so many students have taken the LPC where in fact their soft skills were not up to the job of becoming a solicitor.
A test before the LPC may a) cause students to work on these skills therefore improving them or b) cause them to realise that practical law isn’t for them and allow them choose another legal area. I hate to see people in tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt with nothing to show for it. Testing I believe could at least reduce this number.
I’d love to hear other peoples thoughts on this idea. There could have been loads of things I’ve missed or overlooked. Or perhaps my personal experiences reflect a state of affairs which isn’t the norm. Feel free to comment!
Note : Although I’m talking about LPC students in this article the test could also easily apply to Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students. Perhaps it would make even more sense to have it for the BPTC since the course can cost over £15,000 in London and competition is even more fierce. Perhaps as well as containing LSAT elements, a test for Bar School applicants should also assess oral skills too.
Here is an example of the LSAT test from 2007 with answers at the bottom of the document. Do you think you could pass? (scroll down to see the zoom in button)