There is another way

Is spiralling debt and the cost of the LPC putting you off a career in law? If so, Huddersfield and Northumbria universities may have a solution.

Is spiralling debt and the cost of the LPC putting you off a career in law? If so, Huddersfield and Northumbria universities may have a solution.

With the cost of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) rocketing and student debt spiralling out of control it would be foolish not to explore some of the more affordable alternatives.

As we reported on recently the College of Law, The City Law School and Kaplan Law School (the London arm of Nottingham Law School) are all planning to charge in excess of 10,000 for the full-time LPC in London for 2008/09. Meanwhile, after an inflation-busting 10 per cent hike in fees the full-time LPC at BPP Law Schools Waterloo and Holborn branches will cost a whopping 11,550, making BPP the most expensive law school in the capital (see story).

The LPC is the compulsory one-year course wannabe solicitors need to complete before starting their training contracts.

Indeed, LPC fees outside of London arent that much lower. The Oxford Institute of Legal Practice will charge 8,900 in 2008/09, thats despite slashing its fees by just over 2 per cent after its takeover by Oxford Brookes University. Meanwhile, the Nottingham Law School LPC will come in at 9,485 from September 2008.

If youre yet to apply for your undergraduate degree course and the cost of the vocational stage of qualifying as a solicitor is putting you off then the universities of Northumbria and Huddersfield might be able to provide a vital lifeline.

Northumbria launched an exempting law degree for wannabe solicitors and barristers in the early 1990s. The four-year course is the equivalent of doing a law degree plus the LPC or Bar Vocational Course (BVC). But rather than completing the LPC/BVC after the law degree component the Northumbria course integrates the two. The good news is that you dont need to commit to this route from the outset and can wait until your second year to decide whether you wish to pursue the exempting degree route. The current entrance requirement for the exempting law degree is 320 UCAS points.

Kevin Kerrigan, director of undergraduate development at Northumbria, explains to how the innovative degree course works. The key educational principle of our exempting law degree is integration. We teach students from day one that the study of law is a combination of understanding legal rules, appreciating legal process and developing legal skills, he says.

At the heart of the exempting law degree is clinical legal education. Our students take on real clients in our student law office, a full legal service supervised by practising solicitors and barristers. They work in small groups to advance their clients cases and consequently develop a deeper understanding of the legal rules and their role as a legal professional in securing access to justice, adds Kerrigan.

As youd expect the cost of the Northumbria programme is extremely competitive. Youll be charged a standard tuition fee for university undergraduate courses plus a professional fee of 900 per year, which works out a lot more affordable than a three-year degree followed by the LPC.

The University of Huddersfield, meanwhile, launched a similar offering last September. At Huddersfield all students start on the law degree and the first two years are common years, which all students undertake, though the legal skills element of the course start in year one and increase exponentially through the course. As is the case with Northumbria, students can apply to proceed to the professional route.

This means that in year three you will commence taking the LPC subjects such as civil and criminal litigation and wills, probate and the elderly client and complete the qualifying law degree subjects – equity and trusts and land law. This is a completely compulsory year.

Finally, in the fourth year students will take property law and practice and business law and practice as compulsory modules plus three options from advanced litigation practice; immigration law and practice; commercial law and practice; family law and practice; employment law and practice; and insolvency law and practice. At the end of year four students will be awarded an integrated masters degree – the Master of Law and Practice.

The Huddersfield course is even better value for money costing just the standard 3,070 per year, which all undergraduates have to spend whatever their discipline. This fee is deferred so students do not need to pay this back until they are earning at least 15,000 per year. The LPC fee in contrast is typically paid upfront and therefore can pose a significant financial burden.

However, cost alone should not determine which LPC provider you opt for. Reputation, quality of and method of teaching, pass rates and links with the profession are also important factors. But both law schools insist that their courses are subject to the same scrutiny as those provided by the likes of BPP and the College of Law. Whats more in a bid to boost the courses reputation Huddersfield plans to increase the number of UCAS points students will need to enrol on the course. Currently, it is 300 points but this will be boosted to 320 for 2009 entry putting it at a par with Northumbria. But in a major show of confidence, the law school is hoping to increase this further to 340 points the following year, which will bring its minimum entrance requirements to match that of leading law firms.

Huddersfield is also making inroads with local firms and has recently launched a new Partners in Law initiative to help forge links with regional and national firms such as DLA Piper, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons and Walker Morris. Leading local firms such as Armitage Sykes, Eaton Smith and Chadwick Lawrence are also part of this initiative, which has been spearheaded by a member of the University Council, Mr Michael Woodhead.

Theres no denying that both Northumbria and Huddersfield offer a genuinely cheaper alternative. But as former Polytechnics do they offer the same quality as the likes of the College of Law of BPP? Its up to you to decide.