Demand for postgraduate courses in Law is currently sky high, so it is advisable to start your research into programmes and providers as early as possible. Madhvi Pankhania looks at the available options.
Generally speaking, most law students will go on to be solicitors or barristers and will require further training after graduating. Future solicitors will need to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which usually runs for one year when studied full-time, and is offered by more than 30 institutions in England and Wales. The good news for students is that all providers have to comply with written standards set by The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Even better news is they carry out regular individual assessments in six areas of provision; from teaching, support, and level of resources, to assessment and staffing. Each of these areas is give one of three grades:
1. Commendable practice
2. Confidence in the provision
3. Failure to meet the required level of provision.
Impartial recommendations and clear, useful information about each institution can be found on www.sra.org.uk/lpc and this is a good place to start your research.
Those wanting to train as barristers must complete the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) and must be admitted to an Inn of Court. Much like the structure of the LPC, every school that offers the BVC has been validated by the Bar Standards Board and monitored by the BVC subcommittee of the Education and Training Committee, which assesses the quality of provision and delivery. Information about the ten accredited BVC providers can be found at www.barstandardsboard.org.uk.
The regulators can offer lots of useful resources to students, but which areas should students pay the most attention to? Final decisions should be based on the course and institution which best suits individual student requirements. Students should look at the teaching staff to student ratio, and the number of students on each course. This varies widely, as do class sizes and teaching methods. Teaching may be provided in the form of workshops, small and large group sessions, and lectures. For example, Nottingham Kaplan offers both large (85) and small (18) group sessions, BPP law school provides lectures in groups of up to 252, small group work (18) and skills training (2-10), while the College of Law in Guilford has large groups (60) and two and a half hour workshops of 20 students that pay special attention to e-learning techniques.
It is also helpful to read comments made by the regulators about the support provision each institution provides for students. The College of Law assigns a personal tutor to each student, has a student counselling service, and a ‘buddy’ scheme which is popular with students without training contracts. The SRA also looks at learning resources. It notes that Nottingham at Kaplan Law School is located in a "well-resourced and attractive office building located adjacent to the River Thames" and mentions that The Oxford Institute of Legal Practice has well-stocked libraries, online resources, and good quality course materials.
Bear in mind that courses like the LPC and BVC not only have compulsory subjects but also electives designed to prepare students for work in different practice areas. If you are planning to go into high street or general practice, think about joining a law school offering relevant electives such as family law, or employment law. If you would rather work in the city then electives such as advanced commercial litigation, debt finance, or private acquisitions may be more appropriate. If you haven’t yet decided on a path after study, have a look for schools that offer a range of different subjects.
Postgraduate law qualifications are not only restricted to the vocational BVC or LPC as there are many universities offering a range of more academic and specialised law subjects. Oxford has the largest graduate research law school in the English speaking world with 345 graduate students. Popular courses like theirs are oversubscribed – each year they receive an average of 800 applications for just 150 places on the Batchelor of Civil Law (BCL) or Magister Juris (MJur) master’s degrees and there are an additional 40 places for research degrees. Teaching here differs from the LLM at other institutions in that students are given tutorials as well as the standard seminars and lectures. With these courses, graduates use their qualification directly in practice or in other employment after completion, but there are opportunities to take on a research project for another year and be awarded an MPhil in Law. Look out for specialised areas such as socio-legal studies, criminology, and European and Comparative Law.
A staggering 40 per cent of trainee solicitors and a significant proportion of pupil barristers qualify after taking a Law conversion course, having studied an alternative subject at university. Many schools recognise the demand for conversion courses such as the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and offer these separately, or in conjunction to, their vocational studies. So for example, if you are thinking about going on to do the LPC, schools that guarantee progression to this course after conversion may be worth considering (the Bar Council do not allow a similar route for BVC students). Law firms welcome applications from non-law students because of the specialist knowledge and skills students can bring. Applications for the GDL can be made through the Central Applications Board (www.lawcabs.ac.uk).
Costs can vary enormously between schools with some charging £5,000 more than others for the same course. With limited finances available to students (there are no student loans), it is wise to pay attention to fees and to discover whether the high prices are worthwhile. The highest fees for the LPC are £11,550, while barristers can pay as much as £14,150. The costs dramatically decrease outside of London where they can be less than £7,000, and the size of a school may also determine variations as larger institutions can offer more facilities per student. But higher costs do not always mean better services; be sure to see whether course materials are included in the price and if there are significant differences to justify the tremendously high costs. Some providers are not-for-profit and may not be able to provide the same level of resources as a private school however their ethos may be more appealing to some students. In terms of funding, a source of finance may come in the form of sponsorship from firms who will offer to pay fees (both GDL and LPC) as part of their training contracts. Wise students will know how important it is to apply and research firms as early as possible as some start recruiting two years before graduation. There are a few scholarships available from the Law Society, Bar Council, Inns of Court and Law schools and if costs are really posing a problem, then part-time courses may be a good solution.
As well as all the resources mentioned above, students should research prospective schools and courses via web pages, open days, and by speaking to students. Websites such as rollonfriday.com and traineesolicitor.com include areas where current students talk informally about the law schools they attend and impart useful and valued advice.Also, make sure your school has a good careers service, particularly if you do not have a training contract or a pupillage. Finally, many firms send their trainees to specific schools, so if you are considering applying to certain firms, check out the schools first.
FIRMS EXCLUSIVELY SENDING THEIR TRAINEES TO ONE PROVIDER FOR THE LPC
- Addleshaw Goddard
- CMS Cameron McKenna LLP
- Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
- Herbert Smith LLP
- Jones Day
- Norton Rose LLP
- Simmons & Simmons
- Slaughter And May
- SJ Berwin LLP
COLLEGE OF LAW
- Clifford Chance
- Allen & Overy
- Berwin Leighton Paisner
- Barlow Lyde & Gilbert
- Baker & McKenzie
- Wragge & Co
- Weil, Gotshal & Manges
- Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton