Law Review: College of Law takes £450,000 hit in Halliwells collapse

CoL left with £450,000 Halliwells bad debt

The Lawyer reports: “The College of Law (CoL) is owed almost half a million pounds by Halliwells relating to unpaid LPC fees for the 2009-10 financial year.

The institution, which ran the LPC for Halliwells’ trainees on an exclusive basis, is one of dozens of creditors owed a total of £14.1m by the law firm, which went into administration in July this year.

CoL chief executive Nigel Savage said that the organisation might be left with no choice but to write off the bad debt, which amounts to £448,293.30.”

Nigel Savage –  The primary thing was to make sure that the students could take the exams and make sure they were placed with firms.”

I’d like to  make a number of observations on the story and on the extraordinary comments to the story in The Lawyer.

Halliwells was a leading firm.  It is hardly surprising that The College of Law extended them a facility of extra time to pay.  I am not sure if The College, or any other creditors, save HMRC and the Halliwells bankers were, or could have been,  aware of problems on the horizon before being advised by Halliwells that extra time to pay was needed.  I assume that credit checks were done and came back as satisfactory.  Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful power possessed by so many.

The College of Law, in my view, behaved honourably by allowing students to complete the course and in trying to place the students with other firms.  Many universities and colleges will not allow a student to graduate where the individual does not pay their fees, unless there are good reasons.  The Halliwells students were not at fault.

The comments to The Lawyer story – some sensible – were quite extraordinary; resembling the type of commentary from the knuckledraggerariat seen in the Daily Mail and The Sun.  I suspect that some comments were written by bored lawyers and other  Messrs Anonymice – having a larf – their parodic value is evident.

Inevitably, comments came in to the effect that if The College can write off £450,000 it is making too much money, the fees are too high etc etc etc.  The College of Law is a charity. Profits are ploughed back into the business.  I have no idea what impact this £450,000 hit will have on the College finances current and going forward.  It is a great deal of money.

Ah… but some of the commenters say that Nigel Savage and his board directors are too highly paid. They are highly paid.  I know Nigel Savage well – so I will interject here with a personal observation and a bit of history which may not be known to some of commenters who are quick to criticise..

I worked with Nigel Savage when he was Dean at Nottingham Law School.  I was CEO of BPP Law School then. We did a three year collaborative deal.  At the end of this, BPP Law School sought and obtained LPC accreditation solo and then went on to get validation to do the BVC.  My work was done – I am not interested in administration or running things. I prefer setting them up.  It is not my ‘thing’ or, indeed, my forte.  I resigned from BPP soon after validation for the BVC.  Peter Crisp and Carl Lygo were very much the right people to take BPP on to where they are today.

Nigel Savage moved from Nottingham Law School  to take over as Chief Executive of The College of Law.  I remember saying to him that this was a massive undertaking and I recall using the words – ‘poison chalice’. .  I thought The College of Law was a basket case then.  Soon after resigning as CEO of BPP Law School, I was then asked by the  leading seven Magic Circle and City firms to do a report on the viability of a City LPC.  My report on the College of Law was deservedly negative.  Nigel Savage had only been in post a year.  The College of Law were not invited, then, to be a provider by the consortium of magic circle firms for the provision of the LPC. It did not, however,  take Nigel Savage and his close colleagues and the teaching staff to drive change through and become favoured providers by leading law firms.  That didn’t happen by chance or by accident.  It happened through skill. City and big commercial law firms demand the best – and there are many very good LPC providers in the market.

The College of Law, like most law schools, will have faults and errors will be made – but I have seen the astonishing changes over twelve years.  The quality of staff, the quality of materials, the quality of teaching is now very good – certified to be so by experienced inspectors from the profession.  Nigel Savage brought about and inspired many of these changes by bringing good people in – and with that team, The College of Law is now a leading provider of education across degree and professional levels.  Worth £440k a year?  I would think so.  He could have gone elsewhere.  I happen to know – because I was there and party to discussion with the then Chief Executive of BPP Holdings plc, Charles Prior, on that very issue – he could have come to BPP and he would have been paid extremely well. We certainly wanted him to.  (It is so long ago, that I am not revealing ‘confidential information’ of any commercial value and I justify stating it on grounds of fair comment on this story.)

Cynicism is always healthy. Criticism is a good thing – provided it is fair and constructive.  I have no doubt that there  are administrative cocks ups from time to time – exam papers going missing etc etc – reported gleefully by RollonFriday for comedy value.  I have no doubt that some of the teachers aren’t as good as others etc etc etc.   I doubt whether even the top magic circle firms deliver perfection 24/7/365 – I am sure they strive to, and I am equally sure that if anything goes wrong – they put it right.

I’ll end with  an observation – Professor Avrom Sherr (Director of The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies), another friend from the old days, told me once –  “Making mistakes gives you an opportunity to show how good you are by putting it right”.  He’s right.

One thought on “Law Review: College of Law takes £450,000 hit in Halliwells collapse

  1. These problems are always tragic.

    I am not a fan of hindsight and crystal balls are in short supply.

    Whilst one can never be certain in advance how things will work out, in business (as in life generally) we frequently have to take what one might call reasonable risks. I would imagine that most would have done business with Halliwells.

    Allowing the students – who were not at fault in any way – to complete their courses was absolutely the right decision. The College of Law showed commendable decency and it ought, in my humble view, to stand them in good stead in attracting future students.

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