I write, this week, from somewhere in the South of England. I bring news of many things; some serious, some not so serious…
The more I read and think about the issue of the London Law Schools raising their Legal Practice Course fees by nearly 10% the more absurd I find it in these difficult times. The Lawyer and Legal Week have covered the story well. I wrote about it recently (Greed is Good?) and, last week, I had the pleasure of talking to Professor John Flood in a Lawcast about the fees rise – and he is a man who is at the sharp end and knows a thing or two.
This prompted me to examine the fees being charged for the GDL and, more pertinently, the Bar Vocational Course. BPP charges a massive £14500 for the BVC in London, yet ‘only’ £11500 at their new law school in Leeds. I am prepared, of course, to be convinced that the costs of running the BVC up North are less burdensome on BPP – but it seems to my jaded eye, having been in legal education for 25+ years (and, ironically, having founded BPP Law School with others in the early 1990s when it was one of the cheapest law schools to attend) that the Leeds fee may be a spoiling fee or a *Come in and buy me* fee which will, to coin a phrase, be ‘quantitatively eased’ upwards at some point in the future when market penetration and critical mass has been reached. We shall see. I would be delighted to be proved wrong – for then the students of Leeds will continue to enjoy a more moderately priced course than their counterparts in London. I do, not unreasonably, assume that the quality of staff and provision at BPP Leeds is of the same standard as their London offering. Perhaps it is the presence of Manchester Met nearby with a BVC fee of £9650 which operated on the mind of the BPP Board in setting the Leeds fee? BPP would appear, subject to the VAT issue, to have a policy of ensuring their fees are the highest? Perhaps there is an element of ‘me too or why not?’ – given what the only other two providers in London are charging with the City Law School London pricing? The Rolls Royce/Ford Fiesta syndrome can be a powerful determinant in perceived reputation.
The College of Law charges £13900 for the BVC in London and £10,900 at their law school in Birmingham. It is worth pointing out that the College of Law is a charity and does not have to charge VAT. BPP does have to pay VAT.
The fees charged by the other providers are as follows: Nottingham (£10605), Manchester (£9650), Cardiff (?), Inns of Court/City Law School London (£12770), University of Northumbria at Newcastle (£9155), and University of The West of England (£11250).
A bit of futurology or *prognostication* as our American friends like to call it…
Given that there is likely to be a reduction in applicants for the Bar Vocational Course following the Wood Report (and current economic conditions will also play a part) we are likely to see increasing competition by providers for a dwindling number of applicants. A similar phenomenon may well also appear in the next two years for the LPC Course, but to a lesser extent. This would normally result in a price war. I’m not so sure that this will happen because the costs associated with running BVC courses will be similar for most institutions and those limits cannot be breached if the law school is to be managed on a sensible basis. I’m coming to the view, following my podcast with John Flood (Above), that the public sector could put pressure on the ‘commercially’ operated law schools, BPP and The College of Law, by increasing their provision, holding their prices at inflation increase levels, and attract students who are just not prepared to pay a ‘premium’ of between £3000-5000 for courses at The College and BPP… courses which are unlikely to be ‘significantly’ better.
Of course I will be delighted to revise this opinion on quality of provision if The College and BPP is able to demonstrate ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that their provision is significantly better. OK… I am being charitable. Let’s go for the civil burden and say proof on a ‘balance of probabilities’.
The other possible side effect with the BVC course is that it will simply be unattractive to the BPP and College governing bodies (The reward / risk ratio: the numbers, after all, are fairly modest compared to the very lucrative LPC ) and they will simply pull out of BVC provision. This is perhaps a kite being flown too high? We shall see… in time.. and it will not take a long time to see what happens given the present economic climate and realities of recruitment in the profession.
The traditional universities are not to be exempted from the gradual upward drift in fees – above inflation levels. University Vice-Chancellors like law courses. They are relatively inexpensive to run compared to the budget devouring science, medicine and engineering courses – and some say that Law courses are a useful cash cow for the coffers of the university generally.
That being said – the fees charged by the public sector across the board for GDL, LPC and the BVC are significantly lower than those charged by The College of Law and BPP. I have absolutely no problem in understanding why BPP charges high fees. BPP Law School is owned and operated by a PLC. With risk goes reward and companies know that the customer and economic conditions will, ultimately, control the price point. For the present, students perceive that their chances of future employment will be better if they go to The College and BPP because of the Magic Circle and other top commercial law firms selecting these institutions as their providers of choice. Students, perhaps subconsciously, hope that some of the ‘magic’ will rub off on them. The truth of the matter, and I do have some insight into this, is that the quality of teaching, equipment and resourcing is extremely good at the publicly funded institutions – easily the measure of quality at The College and BPP and may well be better in some cases. The position of The College of Law is quite different. The College is a registered charity and not subject to the pressures of shareholders. The high fees being charged may well be being applied to development in other areas – research think tanks and the like?
Given that the government (and in all likelihood a Tory government of the future) and the profession will continue with the policy of encouraging diversity of entrants to our profession, perhaps legal education is just too important to be left to purely commercial or quasi-commercial factors and some re-appraisal of the basis on which provision is made and the fees being charged is now overdue? For unsponsored students, LPC and BVC fees are high and, in some cases, beyond reach for many. Few, if any, prospective bar students get sponsored so unless they can win a scholarship – they have to pay the tune set by the piper.
I have a podcast coming up this week with Paul Marsh, The President of The Law Society. I have intimated that as part of that podcast I would like to discuss the recent price hike in LPC fees. It will be interesting to hear Paul Marsh’s thoughts on this in the context of the wider discussion we plan on the future of the profession after the recession.
Moving to a less serious, but nevertheless law related matter. I am grateful to my good friend and US lawyer Dan Hull of WhatAboutClients? (At weekends it becomes WhatAboutParis? for some bizarre reason buried in the very depths of Dan’s febrile mind) for alerting me to this news:
“During spring break last year, WAC?’s Holden Oliver had a few drinks on Fleet Street, ran amuck in Legal London with some friends, and got dressed up like an early 20th century bobby for no reason at all. Here he poses before the mysterious London Stone on Cannon Street.
Finding the Stone is not hard: you head east, down Fleet Street, past Dr. Johnson’s house, past St. Paul’s a block north, staying on Fleet Street (not Lane) which becomes Ludgate Hill (past intersection with Old Bailey), which becomes Cannon Street, to 111 Cannon, across from the tube station. You’ll miss It if you’re not careful. You may give an oath to It if you like.
I have a thing about The London Stone–probably because I live much of the time in California in an “old” 22-year-old home.”
There is more.. and you can read it here.
I don’t often write about serious issues in my Sunday letters/postcards. Today, it is sunny and too early in the day to hit the juice – so I took the opportunity to let you know my thoughts on the matters above.
Have a good week
Best regards as always,