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:
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:
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?