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Guest post: A cannon fodder shortage looms as LPC and trainee numbers head for market over-correction

Nigel Hudson has written an interesting post on LPC numbers. He says (among other things):

‘The number of students enrolled on full-time LPCs has shrunk by 8.4% this year. In 2012/13 enrolments fell 4%, so the trend is downward and falling fast.

In all, 5,198 students enrolled with the 27 LPC providers for 2013/2014, according to data from the Central Applications Board, the admissions service for full-time LPC and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) applicants.’

I have written before about the likelihood that the market for LPC places and training contracts tends to over-correct: periods of surplus LPC graduates are followed by a shortage.

The idea that there might be a shortage of good LPC graduates usually prompts much scoffing. We may not be far off though. 4,869 training contracts were registered in the year to July 2012 (the date of the last Law Society Annual report). If the number of training contracts held steady, that would require a pass rate of 94% to fill the training contracts from the current cohort. The numbers will have not held steady (I assume there were fewer training contracts registered this year) so there may still be a small gap between the number of those passing the LPC and those getting training contracts. By my reckoning, if it is 500 fewer training contracts the pass rate to fill it from the same cohort drops to a still pretty high 84%. Law firms are particularly interested in those that pass first time or do well – a smaller group again.

There is, of course, a backlog of LPC grads hoping a training contract appears while they do paralegal work, but we may not be a million miles away from a situation where some firms struggle to recruit quality LPC graduates, astonishing as that may seem. Then LPC numbers will climb back up; albeit slowly (I would guess) and from an interestingly low base, which makes you wonder about the sustainability of much of the provision.

One final aside. I believe it is wishful thinking to see this as students voting with their feet for work-based, earn-while-learning in preference to the LPC. They would almost certainly prefer that model if the status of the two routes was equal and there is lots to commend it but ask a law student whether they’d prefer a training contract or an apprenticeship with the possibility of subsequent qualification and I am pretty confident that still they’d choose the latter. Economics or lack of opportunity for a training contract may force students down a different route; and there is certainly a lot of anecdotal concern about the utility of the LPC but that is very different from saying the market has turned against the LPC. It hasn’t. The market has contracted (or corrected) and its invisible hand might have slightly overdone it.

Richard Moorhead is Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at UCL Faculty of Laws and Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law you can follow his blog here

For more on this topic see  Closed shop: Law Society report shows sharp fall in training contracts