Airmail from The Staterooms – Oversupply of law students edition…

Dear Reader,

It seems appropriate this weekend to begin with Groucho Marx’s aphorism…“Before I speak, I have something important to say”….

For many years now, I have been warning of the oversupply of law students – caveat emptor…let the buyer of the ‘products’ from purveyors of legal education – for that is what they are – beware.  I am not a fan of restrictive practices and barriers to a future career, but the reality is, certainly at the Bar, that the chance of getting a tenancy now is  believed to be roughly 1 in 10. Tough odds.

RollonFriday.com is on the money with a story  headed… Shock as Bar Council chair notices lots of BPTC grads don’t get jobs

There was much learned worrying this week when a big cheese at the Bar noticed the huge number of students paying expensive law schools fees with precious little chance of getting a job.

Michael Todd QC, chairman of the Bar Council, claimed on Wednesday that over-recruitment of students wasn’t doing the profession, the students or social mobility any favours. Todd said it was a “great concern” that law schools were pumping out a hefty oversupply of grads with “no realistic prospect of pupillage“. And he worried about those chucking £16,000 at a qualification which, for those who fail to obtain pupillage, adds little to employability. He also acknowledged that social mobility is being restricted (no matter what the OFT might say) as it is the more affluent students who are better able to risk the cash.

Cue the powerful PR machinery of the major purveyors of the BPTC and LPC.  RollonFriday noted – “The College of Law was quick to jump to the defence. Susan Hutchinson, a member of the CoL’s management board, shot back that Todd’s statement was “scaremongering”. No doubt Montagu Private Equity is relying on plenty of bums on seats to see a return on their £200 million investment.”

Curiously, and going very much against the US oriented corporatespeak of his  ‘masters’ (I would have thought) – a US company Apollo and a venture capital company -  Peter Crisp, CEO of BPP Law School, is reported as saying that he would not advise any student in the present economic climate to go to the Criminal Bar.

Legal Cheek ran with the story: BPP Law School CEO Says Avoid Criminal Bar; Bar Council Chief Voices ‘Great Concern’ At Number Of Barrister Wannabes – Yet Still Students Keep Flocking To The BPTC

I was drinking a cuppa when I read this story and an image of Peter Crisp, who I know and like,  thumbing a lift on the Road to Damascus came into my mind.

Legal Cheek gets it broadly right… and I quote from their report:  “As head of a professional body like the Bar Council, Todd has a lot of people to keep sweet and has to couch his language in diplomatic terms so as not to offend. Reading between the lines, what he is really saying is “WHY THE FUCK HAS NOBODY BOTHERED LIMITING ENTRY TO THE BPTC?!”

I haven’t got much sympathy for The Bar Council or Bar Standards Board on this issue.  Perhaps not enough forward thinking was done – if they find now that they cannot unravel the ‘monster’ they have created?   They have the power to accredit law schools to run the BPTC, to fix maximum numbers for each accredited course and, frankly, what the lord giveth, the lord can or should be able to taketh away.  Or can they? Their response to that, of course, would be that competition law may not permit them to restrict numbers, that law schools have invested heavily in infrastructure… reasonable expectation of certainty  etc etc etc.  To that latter, I put a blunt point:  The vocational law schools are commercial organisations (even the public sector ones) and should factor in downturn and potential regulatory restriction into their financial projections going forward. Was there no ‘sunset’ clause on reduction in numbers accredited if market conditions required it in the original accreditation agreement?   The very high fees charged for the BPTC are, arguably, higher than necessary to turn a reasonable profit?

Having spent much of my professional life doing budgets for professional courses, I still have a fair idea of what the real margins are, where and how law schools ‘bury the bodies’ from the prying eyes of regulators -  god forbid that law schools should think of doing, let alone do, such a thing? -  where law schools make their ‘bunce’ and how the managing boards think and plan.  It is, of course, much easier for a regulator to get a crony in to advise them badly than actually take advice from the many who are knowledgeable in this sector to tell it ‘as it is’. You get what you pay for, chaps.

While some public sector universities are prepared to run courses at a loss to provide a ‘full service’ – generally speaking, those who own law schools don’t really approve of business plans which contain loss making activities – save where it is in their interests to run a loss maker to crush commercial competition – as may well be behind the thinking of the commercial providers to offer very ‘competitively priced’ law degrees, which compete against high quality law degrees from major public sector universities?  Please note the use of a question mark at the end of that last sentence.  BPP and Kaplan are owned by US companies and The College of Law has sold to  venture capital.

Michael Todd QC is right, however, in his statement that diversity will be affected – ironic, given the great efforts made by the profession to increase diversity – when he says that only those who come from a wealthy middle class background will be able to take the risk and afford the high fees charged by the providers of the BPTC with students facing a 1 in 10 chance of getting a tenancy.

So.. that is a cheery start to my ‘Airmail from the Staterooms’… on to twitter…

I received an unsolicited tweet from twitter to let me know that I had been on twitter for 4 years.  I have also managed to rack up over 100,000 tweets – proving nothing, save for the fact that I have, arguably, wasted industrial amounts of time.

In the same week, twitter announced terms and conditions for use of their logo - without having the hassle of going through their lawyers.  It is perfectly reasonable for twitter to protect their brand and direct  how their logo and intellectual property is used.  I fear I may be in breach of these T&Cs with my parodic use of a twitter ‘icon’ to mock the lawyers on twitter who put great energy into broadcasting their brilliance to other lawyers and a largely uninterested general public. I am hopeful that twitter is ‘big enough’ to allow latitude to users who use the logo benignly in terms of their attitude to twitter. (Note to law firms – good law firms and lawyers engage and get involved in discussion.  They provide good information and analysis for free – and deserve their higher profile and side benefit of public awareness, if any, as a result of their time on twitter.  They do not Broadcast.)

I am a fan of twitter.  I have met and talked with many interesting lawyers and non-lawyers who have an enthusiastic and intelligent interest in our law.  The trolls are tedious – but easily blocked from the timeline. Exonerators like Louise Unmenschionable MP who push their agenda can be amusing – and are only doing their job to get the job they really want .

Many of those I tweet with have stopped tweeting, which is a pity. Unfortunately an increasing number of lawyers and non lawyers are using twitter to celebrate their own self importance, their brilliance and promote their careers.  This category of user seems to suffer from Selfaggrandisementitis – a terminal condition which allows enhancement of vainglorious self esteem – usually well beyond their actual ability – but these, too, are easily removed from one’s timeline  at the click of the ‘Block’ button.

I shall continue to enjoy tweeting with those I like – including the apparently semi-insane ranters who can be very amusing and provide a needed laugh during the working day.

Well there we are… time for a walk in the wind… a hot black ‘Americano’ coffee at t’caff and watch the world go by.  Back later… or tomorrow

Best, as always

Charon

5 thoughts on “Airmail from The Staterooms – Oversupply of law students edition…

  1. I agree there is a serious problem. I also agree with Mr Todd’s point that the mismatch is likely to have a diversity impact: risk is lower for wealthy candidates. Whether caps could be implemented that were diversity increasing is, though, a very interesting and unresolved question. The testing of aptitude tests did not give much cause for optimism.

    I do think that some of Mr Todd’s predecessors have faced both ways on this issue. When the Bar Council and the Inns released a site advising on entry into the profession, it was mysteriously bereft of information on entry risk (http://lawyerwatch.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/neither-posh-nor-white-try-the-x-factor/).

    After a fuss was kicked up they put some stats on their site under the FAQs. It’s a shame they did not see fit to produce a short video explaining the process and the risks. Especially as when the site was under development the then Chairman of the Bar gave a speech saying the issue of oversupply was a moral issue. That was a key opportunity for the Bar Council and the Inns to send a clear signal of the risks, and they did not take it.

  2. Thanks for the comment Richard. They did have an opportunity to address the ‘moral issue’ and they did NOT take it.

    I discussed this in a podcast with Nick Green QC years ago when he was Chairman of The Bar..

    Plus ca change?

  3. But it is really an oversupply of law students that’s the problem? You have an oversupply if there’s simply not enough legal work to go around, but it’s a different problem if you have plenty of work but not plenty of ways to fund the careers of lawyers who can do it. I wonder if the problem is actually the latter, which would require a very different solution.

  4. Pingback: Law Review Weekly #1: 4th – 10th June 2012 « Charon QC

  5. Pingback: In discussing the ‘market’ of education, people are ignoring the elephant in the room | Legal Aware

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