The Legal Practice Course (LPC) forms the vocational stage of training to qualify as a solicitor. The compulsory course is designed to build on your academic study of law so that you are better equipped for practice.
The teaching methods on the Legal Practice Course are considerably different to undergraduate degrees, with some providers having a heavy emphasis on online learning. You will also be expected to spend a significant amount of time preparing for workshops, which are typically referred to as ‘small group sessions’. In addition to being tested on your knowledge of the law, the key skills necessary for practising as a lawyer – including drafting, negotiating and client interviewing – will also be assessed.
Rather than just identifying a legal problem and describing or criticising the relevant area of law, LPC students will be required to advise a client on a specific course of action or range of options.
Examination methods vary between LPC providers, with some allowing you to take certain materials in with you while others operate a ‘closed-book’ policy.
What’s on the Legal Practice Course?
The Legal Practice Course was overhauled in 2009 to allow for greater flexibility, with courses being tailored to suit the needs of both employers and students. The new-look LPC, which can be studied either full-time or part-time, is delivered in two stages:
Stage one covers the three essential practice areas of business law and practice, property law and practice, and litigation. Course skills comprise professional conduct and regulation, taxation, wills and the administration of estates.
Stage two is made up of three vocational electives. It is possible to take the electives at the same law school at which you complete stage one, or with one or more other providers.
Many providers, most notably the University of Law (ULaw), are increasingly using web-based learning. Another trend that has swept the postgraduate legal education market in recent years is topping up the LPC into a Masters in Law. This is being offered by a number of law schools.
Professional conduct and ethics: Principles of professional conduct and client care, including the Solicitors’ Accounts Rules and the Financial Services and Markets Act.
Skills: Assessed skills (practical legal research, writing and drafting, interviewing and advising, advocacy).
Taxation: Principles of taxation, trusts, and tax planning.
European law: An introduction to the principles of EU law.
Probate and administration of estates: Distribution of personal property after death, whether testate or intestate (someone who dies without a will) and the procedure of obtaining grants of representation and winding up an estate.
Business law and practice (BLP): a significant part of the BLP course focuses on partnership, company and insolvency law. The Legal Practice Course is designed such that some students may have not studied these areas of law before. It is, however, assumed you have knowledge of, and the ability to apply, contract law (including agency and misrepresentation), equity and trusts and EU law, as these are relevant to many elements of BLP.
Property law and practice (PLP): PLP is concerned with the transfer of land as well as interests in land. This can be in business and residential contexts, for example an office or a house. PLP rests on the three foundation stones of land law, contract law, and equity and trusts.
Litigation and advocacy: This module includes civil litigation, criminal litigation and advocacy. You will be expected to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of many of the substantive law concepts that you have studied on your law degree or conversion course.
- Accounts (solicitors’ accounts and business accounts)
- Professional conduct and client care (including financial services)
- EU law
- Human rights
- Revenue law
- Practical legal research
- Writing and drafting
- Interviewing and advising
These are extra modules you can choose depending on what sort of lawyer you want to be. Typical electives include commercial litigation, commercial property, criminal law, employment law, personal injury law, private client law and family law. Many more are available, including specialist ones such as ‘law and the elderly client’, run by Northumbria University.
The electives that are available vary between institutions, so it is important to research what is on offer when applying for your Legal Practice Course place and decide whether it is relevant for you. There is no point picking electives relating to family or immigration law if you want to train as a commercial lawyer. It is also now possible to complete your electives with different providers.
Further reading: How to get a strategic edge during the LPC
How to apply
You need to submit applications in the autumn prior to the September in which you wish to start the Legal Practice Course. Applications for the full-time course are made via the Central Applications Board (www.lawcabs.ac.uk), where there is an LPC provider list and a specimen application form.
You can apply to three law schools and will be asked to explain why you have chosen them. You will also have to provide the usual information for an application form, including exam results and the name of an academic referee. The deadline for applying is early December and offers are sent out the following February. Any applications made after December will be looked at by LPC providers from March.
Despite having to pay thousands to take the course, having the cash does not guarantee you a place on the LPC, nor a job afterwards. Providers usually expect a 2:1 degree, although it is not impossible to get a place with a lesser degree class.
Choosing an LPC provider
There are about 30 institutions that offer the Legal Practice Course, most of which are part of a university. The biggest providers are BPP and the University of Law – they are also the most expensive.
Unlike undergraduate degrees, the LPC is closely monitered by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Therefore you don’t need to worry about the quality of the course – no LPC is ‘better’ than any other. However, teaching methods, class sizes and the range of electives do differ, so it is important to find an institution offering the electives that fit your career interests.
It is also important to think about location. Although studying the LPC in London is more expensive, there are advantages to being close to the City, especially if you need to look for a training contract while on the course.
If you have already secured a training contract with a law firm, they may require you to complete the LPC with their ’preferred provider’ – but don’t worry: in that situation, the firm will pay your fees.
Further reading: Four ways the LPC is useful during your training contract
Course fees for the Legal Practice Course vary depending on where you study, and in London can be more than £15,000. Don’t forget you will also need money for living expenses such as food, rent and transport. Unless you are lucky enough to have parents willing to fund you, the chances are that after completing your degree you will be unable to pay such fees yourself.
Further reading: Table of LPC fees
Thankfully, most of the large commercial firms pay your LPC fees, provided you secure a training contract with them before starting the course. They also pay a maintenance grant to cover living expenses.
However, if you opt for the high-street/legal aid route it is unlikely a future employer will make a financial contribution towards the LPC. In the absence of help from family, your options may be limited to taking out a professional studies loan, although such loans are difficult to obtain.
In recognition of this, BPP has teamed up with Investec to provide a loan exclusively for its Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), LPC and BPTC students. However, as is the case with all forms of borrowing, read the small print before signing on the dotted line and think very seriously about whether you can afford the repayments.
Other potential sources of funding are bursaries and scholarships from the LPC providers or other charitable organisations.
Also, think seriously about entering relevant law-related competitions, which, as well as carrying cash prizes, look great on your CV.
If none of the above options works out for you then you could do the Legal Practice Course part-time so you can combine it with a job. Some part-time courses run in the evenings
while others are only at the weekend.
Some providers offer distance learning options. Also, it is now possible to take time out between completing the compulsory stage of the LPC and your elective subjects.
If you decide to go down the part-time route you will need to apply to the individual institutions directly.
Another option is the fast-track course, which lasts only seven instead of nine months. This means you will be ready to move to the final stage of your training and start earning a little bit sooner. This route is offered by both BPP and ULaw.
Or you could always take on a temporary job so you can save up for the fees.
Factors to consider when choosing a Legal Practice Course provider
University or commercial provider?
Location, accommodation and quality of facilities such as careers service and library
Reputation and links to the profession
Opportunity for pro bono work
Requirements of future employer
Cost/value for money
Teaching and assessment methods
Choice of electives
Six key components of the LPC
Contract law: formation, formalities, express and implied terms, obligations, operation, termination, remedies, action for negligent misstatement, misrepresentation, agency, retention of title, sale of goods, Unfair Contract Terms Act
Crime: major offences, non-fatal offences against the person, theft, defences, basic criminal penalties
Equity and trusts: nature and uses of various types of trust, formation, fiduciary relationships, rights and obligations, remedies
EU law: institutions, general principles, sources and areas of regulation, relationship with national law, interpretation
Property law: legal estates and interests, equitable interests, easements, freehold covenants, leasehold covenants, joint ownership, registered and unregistered title, mortgages
Tort: general tortious principles, negligence, damages, defences, contributory negligence