The Future of LPC Numbers?

I blogged back in November, about the History of LPC numbers warning about the potential for the current shortage of training contracts to transmorgrify into a shortage of LPC graduates.  A little more data has emerged since then which enables us to begin peering, with a little more certainty, into the future.  The College of Law has done some predictions of how things might stack up in the near future.  Based on my original analysis and this work, I have co-authored a piece with Nigel Savage in today’s Times.

The basic thrust of the article is that there are significant dangers to the profession in talking down job prospects within the profession or artifically restricting entry (see also my ‘Be careful what you wish for post‘ from last November).  Whilst the mismatch between BPTC places and pupillages is consistently large, the position in the solicitors profession is volatile in the short term but stable in the medium and long term. Indeed, over time the risk may be more that entry into the solicitor’s profession is not competitive enough not that it is too competitive (I put on my tin hat here, as I know only too well,  how hard it is currently for law students seeking training contracts).

In the light of the College’s predictions, I thought it would be useful and interesting to update the graphs I produced back in November.

Under scenario 1, the picture would look like this:

Scenario 1

Under Scenario 1 the estimates of LPC enrolments are lower than under Scenario 2 because of differences in data for enrolments supplied by the SRA, Central Appliocaitons Board and Law Society.  Full details of the assumption behind the projections are avaiable here.

Under Scenario Two the picture looks like this:

Scenario 2

There are, of course, a number of known unknowns, in these figures.  A lot depends on how the graduating law and GDL students respond to the jobs market; the impact of student fees may yet have unpredictable effects on willingness to engage in expensive postgraduate study; a narrowing of the LPC supplier base (inevitable in the current climate I think) may reduce further the numbers willing to study the course.  The impact of legal aid cuts, the Jackson reforms and structural changes in the legal profession may also impact on the availability of training contracts.

They are all real problems, but it is important not to overstate them. What both the history and the predictions of LPC numbers show is a pattern of over-reaction both to increases and decreases in training contracts.  When training contracts go up, LPC numbers surge and when training contracts fall, LPC numbers drop dramatically.  In some ways, the market for LPC places it too sensitive, rather than not sensitive enough.

Having followed this issue since I was Chairman of the Trainee Solicitors’ Group back in the 90s it has always astonished me how intractable is the view that there are always far more LPC graduates than training contracts.  This view is proffered by practitioners, careers advisers and academics when speaking to students.  It is a view which is often wrong and only usually right for a couple of years, during a recession.  At least as often, the concern is the other way around.  Law firms tearing their hair out because there are too many to choose from may in the forseeable future be asking, where did all the good ones go?

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About Richard MOORHEAD

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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27 Responses to The Future of LPC Numbers?

  1. Ian Scott says:

    The graphs are interesting, but are they sufficient to describe the problem?
    My understanding of the research premise is that the positive or negative impact upon the population of ‘first time’ LPC passers occurs only in those discrete years examined, as either a simple shortage or overage of TC places (i.e. year on year ).
    Is there not an argument that suggests the negative impact is much more extensive? LPC’ers hold a 4 year eligibility window I believe, within which they can seek a Training Contract or their LPC becomes ‘stale’ and effectively valueless. Their exclusion from the ‘research first time’ pass category warps the actuality, I opine that there is probably ( certainly?) a dynamic standing wave of LPC’ers who keep trying and trying and trying until they give up the ghost and join Tesco when their LPC negatives after 4 years?

    • Richard Moorhead says:

      Ian, historically the deficits created early in recessions are evened out – more or less – by the surpluses later. Those who do not pass first time are not usually in published data though the Law Soc did include them this year apparently by accident. They would make some difference.

  2. John Randall says:

    In the 1990s (when I was at the Law Society and Richard was at TSG) we followed cohorts of law graduates in to employment. In general (from memory) LSF/LPC graduates who did not get training contracts ended up in legal employment, in paralegal or specialist roles. I suspect that what goes up and down with the economy is not the total number of employment opportunities for LPC graduates, but the proportion of them who get training contracts and become solicitors. In a recession, and surplus of LPC graduates displaces those with a law degree only, who in turn displace those with school leaving qualifications only, and so on down. So, being at the top of the pile, the LPC graduate will almost always get a legal job, and in good times it will often be a solicitor job. Cutting the number of LPC places only reduces competition for solicitor jobs in an unhelpful way. Producing only the exact number of LPC graduates needed to fill the available training contracts gives firms no choice. The end result would be likely to be that they only took the best, and filled their remaining posts with overseas qualified lawyers.

    John Randall

  3. Another interesting article-I cant help noticing that there are some aspects of the profession that will be missing out in a few years time if too many law graduates are turned away. Certainly I noticed last year that there was a real shortage of panel members in family law willing to do family legal aid when I was at LSC-admittedly that could be the legal aid aspect as well but I got the feeling there was a genuine shortage of appropriately experienced people and an “aging” population generally in some areas

  4. Ian Scott says:

    Richard,
    Maybe I’m looking at a different facet of the issue you consider but on the basis of your data I’m really struggling to arrive at any of the same conclusions , perhaps you could help me a little more here?
    It seems to me that the intractable view of practitioners is likely to be the correct view in both the short and long term , that it is not a discrete view reflective of recessionary times , nor is it a view that is comprehensively trounced by any of the presented data. My earlier comment argued the case for a fragmented ‘standing wave’ of LPC graduates who, upon passing the LPC, would continue to seek traineeships for several years.
    In this described narrative, at any given time the total number of LPC graduates available in the market for LPC graduates, would be substantially greater than whatever understanding the two simple graphs might impart to the reader. In short the presented data skews the deeper dynamics at work within the LPC/Traineeship issue. Simple X/Y axis graphs are at best inconclusive, they do not present a sufficiency of data to answer the questions asked of them and simply canot be relied upon to make effective argument.
    I am unaware of the total population of LPC grads at any given time, nor their propensity to ‘keep on keeping on’ in their quest for traineeships, but surely these metrics should be factored in and more sophisticated analysis ( by example, Chi square test/StudentsT distribution at least) be applied?
    PS
    I accept that in my earlier comment I incorrectly suggested that an LPC negatives after 4 years – not sure where I got that from – apologies

  5. Casper says:

    Richard… you haven’t addressed the issue. To put it simply:

    Yes. You may be right about the correlation between training contracts and first time LPC passes but what about the large numbers of LPC graduates from former years who couldn’t get TCs? Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that these applicants greatly swell the competition… almost every recruiter reports hundreds of applicants for each place, many with sterling qualifications and grades.

    A true picture of the market would be given by factoring this in.. There’s a huge backlog of applicants… no?

    Isn’t THAT why the Law Soc continues to urge caution?

    • Richard Moorhead says:

      Hi. The figures suggest that, historically, the backlog of those who pass the LPC first time is reduced (more or less to zero) by the surplus of training contracts to LPC grads in the good times. That is the backlog get training contracts, but not straight away.

      • Claire Smith says:

        Richard,

        I’m sorry but what you say just can’t be the case.

        Every year substantially more students undertake the LPC than there are places available. Last year there were about 5,000 training contract and about 10,000 lpc students. Last year in one LPC class of 60 students, only 3 had training contracts. A clear sign that a significant number of lpc graduates are competing for very few places.

        Therefore it can not be the case that the backlog eventually get training contracts.

        The future will be much worse as ABS boosts the number of paralegals (as they will be much cheaper than solicitors)

        Articles like yours give students false hope.

        You only have your vested interests in mind

      • Richard Moorhead says:

        It’s natural to impugn the motives of those who do not disagree with you but I prefer argument based on actual numbers not made up ones. You could start here: http://lawyerwatch.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/a-history-of-lpc-numbers/

  6. Casper says:

    You do have an interest in promoting those arguments though.. You wouldn’t be considered an impartial expert witness in any proceedings if LPC places were the issue.

    Isn’t the backlog so massive now as to negate any shortfall in LPC places within the next couple of years?

    Anecdotal evidence on this issue seems quite overwhelming.. Almost every recruiting partner I speak to talks of a deluge of applicants with first class degrees applying… hundreds for each TC.

    As a double-distinction student looking for a TC I would love to believe that Linklaters will be pleading with me to work for them sometime soon but I’m very sceptical.

    • Richard Moorhead says:

      It’s true but only in a very limited sense. I don’t have a very direct interest in promoting the arguments in fact which is one of the reasons why I have advocated, for example, thin sandwich LPCs which would cause my colleagues on the LPC a bit of a headache. I have a much stronger interest in dealing objectively and on the facts (this is after all the currency of academic commentators and what ultimately makes my job worthwhile).

      We don’t know yet how quickly the backlog will abate. You’re right to be worried, it may be different this time, but that’s what people said last time this happened and it’s important to take a longer term view than the reactions of journalists and some in the professions have taken. Already there has been a major reaction in the number of LPC students which suggests that the market is correcting and the problem will abate.

      Whether you’re right and I’m wrong or vice versa, my main concern has been to inject some objectivity into a discussion which up until the point at which I ran the original post on numbers was based around largely irrelevant concerns about increase in the number of LPC places (which were not being filled). That’s a story about the professions being unable to react to the market dominance of the big providers. No one appeared to be paying ANY attention to the underlying picture, which is how many students were actually graduating and how that matched up to the number of training contracts; but that picture was very different.

      • Claire Smith says:

        Richard,

        The graph you point to only shows those LPC students that passed first time.

        If you include those that pass on resits and those that study part time, the number is much greater. Circa 10,000 per annum.

        You state that you are injecting objectivity into the debate but you are being highly selective in the statistics that you refer to.

      • Richard Moorhead says:

        As far as I can see, I am afraid the only point on which you are correct is where you say the graphs cover those who have passed first time. This is something I myself point out.

        I’d be interested to know where your 10,000 figure from. It looks to have no basis in reality that I can see.

  7. Casper says:

    Hi… and the figures that you give in the link above would still give an approximate backlog at 08/09 of -3449 places… this is like a lost year of LPC students all looking for work…

    What would be more interesting from my point of view, and I suspect many other potential students would be the amount of merit and distinction LPC pass students to TCs… or distinction GDL/1st class degree students to LPCs… breaking it down further gives a better picture… there were plenty of also rans in my year who weren’t taking it seriously but just clogging up the numbers… one guy failed every single subject… what a waste of his (or more likely his parents) money..

    This is especially interesting as I was told recently by a partner at a large NW firm that 3 out of 4 of their new trainees had firsts…. ironic really… so many of the recruiters are themselves products of the shortages with dessies and some of them freely admit they couldn’t get employed today against the stiffness of the competition…

    I still think it’d be madness to recommend to anyone that they study law with a view to the LPC unless you think they’re distinction material all the way… otherwise it’s painful and expensive stuff.

  8. Richard Moorhead says:

    It’s about ten percent lower than that but broadly you’re right. It’s a big backlog and not all of them will make it into the profession. Some will give up. Some will get on as the LPC numbers fall below training contracts.

    I’m totally in favour of realism and openness and also in thinking about ways of ensuring the market and the LPC system fit better together. There’s a real danger in overreacting though. For instance, if students feel they need distinctions and firsts, as your comment suggests, then a lot of good recruits will be lost. For instance, the last data I saw on this showed that c. 7% of Russell Group students get firsts. Whilst I would expect the proportion of trainee sols with firsts to be higher than that it will not generally be anything near to 75%. My guess (I don’t think there is any data on this)? It would be nearer to 20%

    Incidentally, when I was recruited as a trainee, the senior partners all told us they wouldn’t have been recruited either.

    • Claire Smith says:

      No it’s not right.

      As I say above the graph does not include a significant number of LPC graduates.

      In order to comment objectively on the chance of success you need to know the total number of LPC graduates in circulation actively looking for a training contract.

      It is significantly more than the graph suggests.

  9. Casper says:

    It wouldn’t surprise me if it were 3 or 4 times as many as the graph suggests..

    I suppose many of those are not really contenders, even in the best of times… students who fail parts of the LPC (or GDL) and resit.. I mean, would you hire someone who couldn’t get over 50% in an LPC module? How duff is that? There’s a lot of people take the LPC who don’t make the cut quite frankly… these people certainly swell the numbers..

    It’s a bit like acting… there’s a lot of bad actors around looking for work and these swell the competition in absolute numbers but if you’re good then you’re not in competition with the bad, you’re in competition with a smaller pool of talented people… that’s why I think stats broken down into student grades (distinction/merit/pass etc) would be useful…

    It’s more scary when you hear partners and recruiters saying they’re getting huge amounts of applications from very good candidates… For me personally, that signifies a serious problem more so than numbers per se…

    I think Richard’s right though… at some point there will be a major market backlash… if breaking into law is going to mean getting firsts all the way and then being exploited as a paralegal for 10k as your entry job then talented people will look elsewhere for a career… now even a newly qualified teacher is on 30k in very short time and with comparatively little effort… I wish I’d put my efforts into something equally demanding but with a much much better payoff like dentistry…

    The ‘profession’ can only function because it has armies of paralegal wannabees working for pittances… this will not endure forever if there are much better options elsewhere… supply and demand, basic economic laws will swing the pendulum back… not for quite a while though I fear.

    • Claire Smith says:

      I agree with everything you say.

      Unfortunately the myths about law will persist for some time yet and as such the saturation will continue for a while yet.

      For whatever reason students seem to just assume that a job follows from the LPC. As you say this will change but not for a while yet.

  10. Ian Scott says:

    Richard
    Adding fuel to the fire!………… Ian

    [] The Law Society/ Junior Lawyers May 2011 http://bit.ly/aQYSd6
    ___________________________________________
    “the JLD believes that for each training contract place there are at least five students. This means that only 1 in 5 of those who start on the LPC each year will be able to take training contracts. Add to this all those already looking from the last year’s graduating class, those qualifying from other jurisdictions, barristers cross-qualifying and paralegals – and the marketplace is very full.
    This level of competition means that you have to be realistic about your chances of getting a training contract .”

    [] “The Law Society is set to launch a campaign warning students to think twice about embarking on a career in law.” The Lawyer, 28 July 2009, http://bit.ly/GPu8a
    __________________________________________________
    A spokesperson said: “We’re not telling people not to be a solicitor, but we are warning them about the risks and cost implications attached.”

    “the Law Society will look at systems for keeping student numbers down in other jurisdictions. In Scotland, for example, students cannot undertake the LPC equivalent unless they already have a training contract agreed with a law firm”
    _____________________

  11. Ian Scott says:

    The Future Legal Landscape – Law Society Roadshow – Speaker Joshua Rozenberg 15th June 2011 – Wirral,Cheshire
    ____________________
    Joshua chaired a debate upon ABS’s – engaging panel speakers including Linda Lee President of the Law Society, a question arising out of Prof. Fiona Beveridges ( Liverpool U Head of Law) concerns as to the challenges faced by law students, received the following response from Linda Lee :

    “We don’t support students with regard to LPC, tens of thousands waste their money on gaining an LPC, with no hope whatsoever of gaining a contract – the profession is not straight with them. The market cannot absorb the number of LPC passes”

    Ian
    Roadshow attendee

  12. Casper says:

    Scary…

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  15. Casper says:

    A question for Richard…

    As not only LPC numbers are falling dramatically but also GDL places going unfilled with the withdrawal of Natwest professional studies loan adding to the general gloom about studying law…

    http://l2b.thelawyer.com/universities-flee-gdl-market-as-students-stay-away/1008604.article

    In the event of an upturn, or even a boom do you forsee a repeat of the late ’90s where newly qualified solicitors are in great demand and salaries rise accordingly?

    What areas of law are this likely to affect? Will the shortage be greatest in commercial law? Will PI, Wills and Family just be swallowed up by Tesco Law?

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