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Official stats: Great Recession has devastated applications to law schools

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Over the last five years the number of students aiming for either the LPC or GDL has tumbled — with two law schools coming to dominate the market

lecturer

The devastating impact of the financial crisis on the legal education market is graphically illustrated by statistics showing a near 40% crash in applications for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) over the last five years.

Figures from the body administering an online applications system for both the LPC and GDL in England and Wales show that around 4,000 fewer students — a drop of 37% — applied for an LPC place this year compared with 2008-09.

The Central Applications Board (CAB) says there were 6,895 new LPC applications for the 2014-15 academic year, compared with 10,933 in 2008-09.

LPC

There was even a marginally steeper decline of 38% in the number of law conversion course applications over the same period. In 2008-09 there were 2,290 more new applications for the GDL than those made in the current year — 5,980 compared to 3,690.

GDL

The one bit of good news was that the fall in LPC applications seems to have stabilised, with applications up very slightly from 6,834 in 2013-14 to 6,895 this year — ending a run of five consecutive years of drops. But the GDL market remains in freefall, with applications down from 4,523 in 2013-14 to 3,690 this year. The popularity of the course seems to have been hit not just by the Great Recession, but by an increase in enthusiasm for law degrees following the trebling of university fees in 2012.

Commentators have speculated for some time that the financial crisis has spawned a shakedown in the legal education market. Not only are students harder up and in greater debt — owing to the imposition of tuition fees — but also the training contract market significantly contracted.

Prior to the financial crisis, students were prepared to take a punt and apply for an LPC place even if they didn’t have a training contract in the bag. Not only have they been far less likely to take that chance following the financial crisis, it is also understood that law firms take a dim view of the judgement of those students that risk doing the LPC before being offered the security of a training contract.

Law school wars

The statistics go on to cast an interesting light on the battle at the top of the market between the University of Law and BPP Law School.

The former — which is the biggest law school in Europe — still has the largest share of the LPC market, 45% compared with BPP’s 32%. However, BPP has gradually narrowed the gap, gaining 393 LPC students this year, while the university dropped 122.

Meanwhile, BPP leads in market share for the GDL — 42% compared with the ULaw’s 32%. And that position appears to be solidifying with BPP increasing its GDL student body this year by 212, while the university’s figure dropped by 133 students.

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The figures also highlight just how dominant the University of Law and BPP are in the market. The third biggest player — the combined Nottingham Law School/Kaplan Law School — has a total of only 275 students this year on the LPC and 112 on the GDL. And both those numbers are decreasing at Nottingham/Kaplan, by 43 — or 13.5% — for the LPC, and by eight — 6% — on the GDL.

Cardiff University’s law school comes next in the LPC numbers, currently with 103 students. City University in London actually outstrips Nottingham/Kaplan in relation to the GDL, with 184 students currently on its course.

There are also universities with so few students on their LPC and GDL courses that one has to pose the question: what on earth are they playing at? Taking honours on that front is South Wales, which has just four students currently on its LPC.

The University of Derby manages an LPC student body of 13, while the University of West London scrapes together a comparatively healthy 17.

But GDL courses can be even lonelier. Huddersfield, Keele and Leeds Beckett each muster a mere seven students on their courses. And there is a tight-knit group of six students at Wolverhampton University, four at Staffordshire University and just three on the course at Aberystwyth University.