Nigel Hudson has written an interesting post on LPC numbers. He says (amongst 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 (see here and here).
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 for a training contract appears whilst 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 interestingly low base which makes you wonder about the sustainability of much of the provision.
One final aside. I think its wishful thinking to see this as students voting with their feet for work-based, earn whilst learning in preference to the LPC. I do think they’d prefer that model if the status of the two routes was equal and there is lots to commend it (indeed I argued for a thin sandwich model as the Chair of the Young Solicitors Group back in the 90s); 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 still they’d choose the former. 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.