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Legal education – either free or very expensive as BPP to train job-hungry grads for nothing

Law schools have been dogged by controversy in recent years on both sides of the Atlantic but one of the UK’s major providers has a novel response: giving education away for free.

BPP Law School this week confirmed that it is to offer a free qualification worth up to £16,500 to any of its legal practice course (LPC) graduates who fail to secure a job in the legal sector within six months of graduating.

The offer will apply to all students starting the LPC from September 2013 and will allow them to apply for qualifications outside law. This includes major qualifications of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), as well as an MSc degree at BPP Business School or courses to become a chartered financial analyst or tax adviser.

Those doing higher studies in law on BPP’s Masters of Law courses or the New York Bar course can also benefit from the offer. Graduates must show evidence of having applied to a range of positions in employment ‘at a solicitors practice or another organisation where the function is a legal one’.

Although there is no cap on the budget for students who meet the criteria for a free qualification, the offer will not extend to unemployed graduates from the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

BPP dean and chief executive Peter Crisp told Legal Business: ‘We want to go a step further with the free qualification offer as a way of demonstrating our commitment to enhancing the CVs of all of our students.

‘We are the market leader in terms of innovative legal training – it is no coincidence that over 25 of the leading law firms come exclusively to us for their legal training requirements.’

He added: ‘All our graduates have access to our career services 12 months after they leave so this is really just an extension of that, offering graduates support and the chance to enhance their CV.’

Whether such moves will be enough to appease critics who claim that major law schools like BPP and the University of Law profit at the expense of those with little chance of securing a career in law is another matter.

According to research carried out by BPP, 89% of their 2011-12 class gained training contracts or other legal work within three months of passing their LPC.

However, many dispute such claims and the situation in Bar education is even more contentious, given the dearth of pupillages. With controversy over law schools intensifying since the downturn gripped Western economies five years ago, similarly imaginative measures to avoid the creation of an army of unemployed law students would not be a surprise in the months to come.