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The Judge Rules: Accelerated courses — students need to beware

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How much sympathy should we feel for the seven students whose firms dropped training contract offers after they failed BPP’s speedy-LPC?

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Caveat emptor is a bit of clichéd Latin, but its invocation is bang on the money in relation to the recent furore over BPP Law School’s accelerated Legal Practice Course (LPC).

Legal Cheek and other specialist media reported earlier this week that seven unlucky students had seen their training contracts disappear in a puff of smoke after they failed several LPC modules.

Specifically, the students stumbled over the drafting and the business, law and practice exams at the first time of asking. And while the university would generously allow re-sits, out in the real world, the students’ hard-boiled sponsors and former future employers took a harsher view: one strike and you’re out.

We don’t know exactly which firms were involved in firing the bullets. But we do know that only five Square Mile players form the BPP accelerated consortium: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright and Slaughter and May. It could have been one of them, all of them, or a mix.

On its face, the decision by whichever firm or firms it was seems tough in the extreme. Those seven students have had highly prized training contracts snatched from their grasps and now have to dive back into the application scrum for posts that will start much later than they had planned.

Also, there is the risk that they will be branded as the “sacked seven” — the group that rolled the dice on the accelerated LPC only to see the dreaded seven come up.

Some commentators on the Legal Cheek article have suggested that the accelerated course was a bit of a bugger, to put it mildly. Those signing on had not anticipated that shaving 10 weeks off the normal LPC running time would create such exponential levels of intensity.

Likewise, there is an argument that their sponsoring law firm/s should cut this lot a bit of slack. After all, some very bright people do not always perform well in exams — at least the first time round — and by imposing the one-strike rule, the management committees could be missing out on some real talent. After all, the firms were impressed enough with this group to make training contract offers in the first place — surely re-sitting a couple of modules is not too much to ask.

And from a pure economic housekeeping perspective, shouldn’t the firms be a little more flexible? The position regarding LPC fees and living allowances is not clear, but it is unlikely that the firms will be demanding their pounds of flesh back. Therefore, their intransigent hard line first-time-pass rule will cost them some real cash.

Those are all entirely cogent and fair arguments. But law students don’t need to be told (or perhaps they do) that the City law firm training contract recruitment game is brutal. The Square Mile global elite practices can afford to take a hard line because it is a buyers’ market.

So when those seven BPP students thought — for whatever reason — that they would take a punt on the accelerated course, they should have known what they were getting into. It is likely that the firms would have made the pass requirements abundantly clear. If they did not, then that would be a huge dropped stitch — especially for lawyers.

Where there is perhaps a shade of grey is just how clear the law firms and BPP were over the nature and intensity of the accelerated course.

If there is a useful lesson to be drawn from this episode, it is that providers of fast-track and accelerated courses — BPP is not the only player in the game — and sponsoring law firms need to leave students in no doubt over the practical effects of shaving off 20% of the time dedicated to a course.

But ultimately, those buying in to this new breed of hyper-course must beware of what they are signing up for.

Previously:

BPP big wigs silent as failed students are reported sacked from training contracts [Legal Cheek]