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University of Law enters Scottish market with CMS Cameron McKenna future trainee tie-up

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English-style vocational course to be launched north of the border

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The University of Law (ULaw) is to extend its reach beyond England & Wales in the latest chapter of an eventful summer for legal education, which is still reverberating from Kaplan Law School’s shock announcement that it is to close.

ULaw’s move into a new market comes in the form of a tie-up with international law behemoth CMS Cameron McKenna to create a bespoke version of the Scottish Legal Practice Course (LPC) equivalent — the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP) — for the firm’s trainees-to-be.

But for now ULaw won’t be adding to its branches in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Chester, Guildford, Manchester and Leeds, with the new jointly curated course set be hosted by an existing Scottish university — the identity of which is still to be confirmed. ULaw told Legal Cheek this afternoon that it has “no plans at present to open a branch in Scotland”.

In that sense, the arrangement could prove similar to the recent deal struck by ULaw and the University of Exeter, which are partnering from September to offer the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and, from next year, the LPC.

This has been one of the bright spots in a tough year for ULaw, which entered into new ownership in June having lost a number of exclusive firm GDL and LPC deals to bitter rival BPP. CMS — which has offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen thanks to its 2014 merger with Dundas & Wilson — has also been on the receiving end of some negative publicity recently, having slashed its trainee recruitment target from 76 last year to 50 in this recruitment round.

The real story here, though, is whether the franchised legal education model could colonise Scotland as it has England. Even without a physical presence north of the border, ULaw’s move into the Scottish vocational training market is likely to shake things up in the Land of the Brave, where the DPLP is delivered mainly by single-centre universities without any specific affiliation to law firms.

Ominously for those traditional establishments, the current legal education scene in Scotland looks a lot like England before ULaw and BPP began signing up firms to exclusive training deals for their future lawyers in the mid-noughties.

Plenty of details still need to be ironed out before CMS’s first cohort of future lawyers begin their ULaw DPLP’s in September next year, but the key point emphasised by both the firm and the law school is that the course will be more business-focused than existing syllabuses and streamline better with the English LPC.

In a statement issued by the firm, CMS senior partner Penelope Warne spoke of her enthusiasm for the bringing of “more consistency to legal training and education for CMS trainees”. ULaw’s provost and chief academic officer Professor Andrea Nollent had a similar message, commenting:

We have enjoyed a successful working relationship with CMS for many years and are excited to be working with them on this innovative development of their training. This is a market leading proposition which will equip the firm’s trainees with the edge they need to succeed in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving market.