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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]

22 Comments

Anonymous

Its a cut-throat world out there.

Hopefully those who were considered good enough for those firms will be able to secure TC’s elsewhere.

(18)(1)

Kate S.

I am doing the LPC, full time not fast track and it is demanding and intense. I cannot imagine doing it Fast Track. People should be warned of this before starting.

(14)(13)

Stating the obvious

They are informed before they start – especially as the Fast-Trackers start earlier than the “normal” LPCers. It’s not exactly a hidden secret. If you apply to the firms that require Fast-Track LPC then you know it’s at least a possibility.

(4)(3)

Anonymous

I’m part time and finding it all really fast

(4)(0)

MC

No “gamble”, no “punt” was taken by these students opting for the accelerated course – most of the major firms now REQUIRE prospective trainees to do an accelerated course, in order to give flexibility to have split March and September trainee intakes. It’s a no-brainier if you have the option of whether to take full-time or accelerated. Many don’t have that option.

(20)(2)

Anonymous

Well, you always have the option of applying elsewhere.

(1)(7)

Anonymous

“…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…”

Just because the group were talented enough at interviews/ assessment centres does not necessarily translate to being good solicitors. The firms mentioned in this piece offer a combined 345 TC’s every year, meaning that 338 managed with the intensity of the accelerated LPC and passed. Perhaps it is a case of dealing with the fact that they just weren’t good enough on this occasion.
I’d also be happy to bet that any of the people saying they should be given another chance wouldn’t be so forgiving if someone breached a contract which they had entered and put a lot of money into only for the terms not to be fulfilled.

(11)(11)

Anonymous

This article is wrong. Not all of the students lost their training contracts.

(19)(1)

Anonymous

CC / A&O also send their future trainees to BPP. You guys really need to check the accuracy of your reporting.

(10)(14)

Anonymous

“Please note that the Accelerated LPC is not the same course as BPP’s Fast Track or January start LPCs … It is also not the same as the accelerated LPC we run for Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance sponsored students”

(21)(0)

Non Sequitur

I feel that the real problem still lies with BPP. The odious Mr Lygo’s ‘lion’ focuses predominantly on marketing puffery, without much concern as to the course intensity, demands on students and prospects of candidates upon its completion.

The simple fact that a 2.2 is all one needs to do the GDL (or LPC for that matter) is borderline criminal – it seems unimaginable to me that a 2.2 from, say, a less rigorous university, would be adequate for the level of shellacking one is subjected to on these sped-up courses.

Unfortunately, the law firms that send their students to these institutions largely turn a blind eye to the potential issues that may arise, and often merely bluster about ‘clenching your teeth and getting on with it’ when one would complain.

Tl;Dr This whole one year diploma education farce needs acute reforms.

(8)(4)

Anonymous

Some of the firms mentioned allow their trainees to resit modules, others have a stricter policy of fail and your TC offer is retracted. Either way, they know what they signed up to when they signed their offer letter. The same would happen for many if they achieved a 2.2 in their degree.

We are talking about very small numbers here. Compare it to how many accountants will be kicked off their graduate programme for not passing their accountancy exams and the figure stated is practically non-existent.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

It doesn’t seem like a big deal only to lose a couple of trainees out of your population of 50 plus. But, when you’ve those trainees are spread out over 10-15 departments you can’t absorb the blow equally (I’ve never seen sharing between departments actually *work*). The loss of a couple of anticipated trainees is going to be felt by the departments that are going to have to take a 20% or higher cut in trainee capacity for the team.

The lead-up time from giving someone a training contract and it starting, coupled with the recovery in the level of work for City firms now means that there’s something of a shortage of trainees for the work to be done to begin with. I think a lot of this is to do with pride and fear- no one wants to admit to their firm that the bespoke LPC and years-long run up process that they run is at best a rounding error in terms of producing better trainees.

Binning someone for failing a single exam therefore seems to be a process of aiming the shotgun at the firm’s feet and pulling the trigger.

(3)(1)

Tyrion

Cancelling the training contract of someone who has passed all the stages including good GCSEs, A-levels, Degree, GDL and assessment centers is pretty stupid, particularly if it is something like drafting or interviewing and advising. However the trainees can have no complaints, they knew the game and should just move on. Think of it as a first taster of how ruthless city law is, where partners PEP increased during the recession but secretaries and tea-ladies lost their jobs.

Its life, we all make mistakes, the key is to bounce back.

(17)(1)

Mel

Before studying law, I was a Police Officer.

Out of a thousand something applicants, I along with some 24 others was offered a training contract or pupillage with the CPS in 2006.

I started my training contract whilst awaiting an employment elective resit result, only to find I’d failed it again, this time by 1% and so had to resit for a final opportunity. I was quickly shown the door, despite pleading leniency. My letter to the then head of the CPS wasn’t even acknowledged.

It then took me a further two years to find and then a further two years to start, a training contract with a regional firm. I didn’t give up and that attitude helped me secure another training contract. I qualified and now very happily work in-house, so I have every sympathy with the seven but would urge them not to give up. As the poster above says, yes it’s the “game” but that doesn’t mean you’re on the bench permanently.

(20)(0)

Sabrina

I don’t wish to speculate on what’s happening with these 7, but out of interest – has anyone had to resit an LPC / GDL module and found that the firm was okay with it? I know that most contracts specify passing everything first time, but is it always that strict in reality?

(3)(0)

Anonymous

I know someone who resat a GDL module while sponsored by a top firm. Don’t know any LPC resitters, though.

(2)(0)

Tyrion

I know someone who failed a few modules on the LPC and kept their TC. I believe he had some serious connections in the firm though. That’s why i say it is part of the game. If you fail and are let go, don’t take it to heart and don’t listen to people who say your are an idiot. Its part of life and your mistake just came at an awful time. Just keep going and move on. The firms don’t owe you anything but don’t beat yourself up about it for too long.

(7)(0)

Trainee & former BPP LPCer

I know someone who failed the writing module on the LPC – can’t for the life of me remember what the module was called but we all had different topics. Anyway, he had a TC at a “pass first time” firm. His topic was employment law & he failed. Took it to the employment partner at his firm who agreed with his analysis so they let it slide and he re-sat.

Another girl who had a TC at a big city firm failed one of the elective modules. She was allowed to resit on the condition that she passed highly (it’s capped but you can still find out what % you got). If she didn’t pass the resit (think she had to get 70%) she would have lost the TC.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Presumably the trainee failed on style rather than content. Getting the law right is only part of that assessment.

(1)(0)

Trainee and former BPP LPCer

Nope, he was told that his legal assessment was incorrect. His employment partner thought otherwise

(1)(0)

Accelerated LPCer

This news has gotten out without much evidence-collecting.

Being on the LPC, I can say that there were not 7 people who failed, and certainly not seven students who no longer have training contracts.

(5)(0)

Comments are closed.