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An anatomy of Kaplan’s doomed BPTC

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Positioning itself as cool, unfussy and cheap — by, for example, being based in Peckham rather than Borough — would have made the doomed Kaplan Law School Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) less vulnerable to competition from bigger rivals.

peckham

In hindsight, it was never going to work.

But back when Kaplan entered the legal education market in 2007, the idea of creating the Oxbridge of BPTC providers seemed to be a clever one.

By introducing a rigorous aptitude test in order to gain admission to the course, Kaplan at a stroke achieved the twin aims of attracting the cream of wannabe barristers and taking the moral high ground above its rapacious BPTC rivals.

Not for Kaplan the dubious practice of offering the Bar course to anyone with a 2:2 and a spare £16K, regardless of their ability to actually secure a pupillage (which most BPTC graduates, of course, don’t). The new kid on the block’s charming campus, bordering Borough market and overlooking the Thames, underlined its elite appeal.

With top students flooding in and positive media coverage abounding, the likes of City Law School, BPP and the University of Law looked on nervously as Kaplan’s other courses, the Graduate and Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC), basked in the glory of an increasingly impressive brand.

The problem was that high overheads meant that Kaplan wasn’t actually making any money from the BPTC, which from 2009-2013 was indeed the best in the business, lovingly tended by founder James Wakefield, a former barrister. To bring in the cash, Kaplan needed to increase student numbers. Cue phase two of the strategy. Wakefield left, moving on to lead the Council of the Inns of Court. And Kaplan went about trying to build on his good work by increasing the scale of its BPTC operation.

Approval was obtained from the Bar Standard Board (BSB) to increase validated course numbers from 90 to 120. Staff members prepared themselves for a busy year. And then something unexpected — but not entirely unpredictable — happened. City Law School, the country’s biggest BPTC provider, whose top GDL students Kaplan had been pinching, hit back. A discount was offered for GDL students to continue with City for the BPTC. There were also rumours of other rival course providers offering scholarships to students who otherwise would have chosen Kaplan.

Now, if Kaplan really were Oxbridge, the value for students of having its name on their CVs would have trumped these extras from rival institutions. But, as the law school was to find out, the cachet it had built up would only take it so far.

What Kaplan failed to factor in to its calculations is that top wannabe barristers have extremely glittering CVs, featuring many things that prove how good they are — such as first class degrees, advocacy prizes and, perhaps most importantly, scholarships from the Inns of Court (which are, of course, a form of Bar aptitude test). While these achievement junkies enjoyed bagging another award in the form of a Kaplan BPTC aptitude test pass, it was a luxury.

That meant that when other law schools came calling with discounts, many decided to forgo the Kaplan experience. And so Kaplan began its 2013-14 BPTC significantly below its allocated numbers. Given the timing of last week’s announcement of the ditching of the course, it seems that something similar may have happened this year, although rising rent on Kaplan’s premises — which it is to leave this summer — played a part.

The moral of the story? That the only way for law schools to gain a lasting advantage in what is a steadily shrinking market is to battle over price. But Kaplan also showed how powerful the (very rapid) building of a brand could be in influencing student’s choices. Now, if it had gone budget, but in a cool way, and set up out of, say, a warehouse in Peckham, things might have been different.


12 Comments

Treefiddy

You presuppose that only GDL students do these kinds of courses, particularly the BPTC. That’s far from true. Also, City offers it’s own graduates, whether GDL, GELLB or LLB a reduction in costs. The success of the other law schools lies in the fact that they probably do not encourage GDL students solely.

Also, in the BPTC community, being from Kaplan isn’t considered to be coveted to any particular degree.

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Dave

One of the reasons Kaplan’s BPTC failed was because no London BPTC students wanted to be stuck over in London Bridge, where no barristers work, when BPP and City are right by the Inns of Court.

Clearly Peckham wouldn’t solve this problem.

This is less of an issue in the regions, where it doesn’t matter how close you are to your Inn for dining, general admin etc. But in London the less you have to travel for these sorts of things the happier your life is.

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Concerned

You seem to forget that those students out on Circuit are required to attend the Inns of Court for Qualifying Sessions as they can’t make up the quota on regional sessions and advocacy weekends alone. (Or at least this used to be the case).

Pretty sure those in Northumberland are a lot less happy about that situation than those in Birmingham.

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Not Amused

The Bar is totally open, transparent and meritocratic. The Code of Conduct now requires extremely high levels of compliance with Equality and Diversity procedures; which I have every confidence that all Chambers meet. If anyone does not meet these standards then that is very serious indeed.

Any suggestion that being ‘physically close’ to barristers in any way shape or form helps you with either completing the BPTC or gaining pupillage is a dangerous and misleading statement. It is one which the Bar would and should condemn.

There is a huge difference between being conveniently close in order to dine and getting pupillage. Anyone choosing a more expensive provider in order to be closer for dinning should GET CABS as in the long run it will work out cheaper.

Again the only immutable truth is that where you complete your BPTC makes no difference to your chance of getting a pupillage. It makes no difference to where you get pupillage.

I appreciate that there is a huge difference between the truth and what BPTC students believe, but I can only keep repeating the truth.

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Concerned

It does make a difference but probably not in the way I think you’re condemning, NA. The whole “My mate/Daddy at Bloggs Chambers has said he’ll speak to his pal on the Pupillage Committee and get me an interview” attitude is something that should be condemned because it frankly makes a mockery of the Bar. That it probably still occurs on rare occasions will probably make NiteOwl hoot like mad.

However, out on circuit it seems a lot of chambers want to know about your commitment to the region and circuit so they don’t get an OccupyTheInns clone who is only up there for the pupillage and will be seeking tenancy somewhere in London ASAP. In those circumstances, saying you went to one of the providers on that circuit, or close to it, is an advantage in terms of answering that question on the application form. So, proximity isn’t all that bad, its just how you use it.

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Dave

What are you on? Where did I say it helps in getting pupillage? I said it helps in making your life more happy and hassle free. Happy people generally do better with their work too.

Plus – London Bridge: yuck.

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Not Amused

Not attacking you or even responding in particular to your message. You just flagged up an idea I’m keen to stamp out is all.

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Niteowl Attorney

That’s funny.

Thank you for the laugh.

And they say that British humor isn’t funny.

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Ann O'Brien

The above may be true in the wider BPTC community but having met some students from Kaplan they are certain sure they are (were) a cut above everyone else. What’s that saying about pride & falls?

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C

The other issue is that there is limited point in offering quality on a course that is almost entirely pointless, and that most recruiters ignore once they’ve confirmed you have passed.

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anon

I agree with this argument- at the point you start the Bar course, if you needed to go to Kaplan for the sake of the ‘prestige’ on your CV something has already gone wrong.

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Starr

What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. BPTC. Huh. Yeah.

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