American pipe dream?

With the College of Law planning to offer non-law ­grads the chance to study for the New York Bar, Corinne McPartland looks at whether it’s a useful move

The news that the College of Law (CoL) is launching its own version of the New York Bar (NYB) course has been met with staunch ­criticism from graduate recruiters across the City.

The college announced it would be making its first foray into the US legal market with radical plans to offer the NYB exam to its ­Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) students.

Even though CoL has not yet revealed how much the course will cost, it has already been called a “waste of money” by many graduate recruitment partners at US firms in London.

One graduate recruitment partner says: “I ­certainly wouldn’t offer someone a training ­contract because they’d done the NYB exam. I would actually look at it as a negative because I would question why the candidate felt they ­needed to do this to pad out their CV.”

She adds that US firms in London are looking for trainees who are qualified to do work in the UK only and the extra qualification would be a “complete waste of time”.

“If a candidate felt the need to do ­something with their time after their Legal Practice Course [LPC], we’d look much more favourably on a Master’s on a subject that’s related to the practice areas that we as a firm focus on.”

Full-time GDL students who go on to complete CoL’s LPC or Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) will be eligible to sit for the NYB exam following an addit­ional 22-week study programme. This will be available to those ­students who start their GDL with CoL in September 2010 and can be completed in one block or spread over a longer period of time.

“This is a real first for the UK as prior to our agreement with the NYB, only LLB ­graduates or fully qualified lawyers were eligible to sit for the exam without undertaking any further study,” explains CoL chief executive Nigel Savage.

He adds that the new CoL Juris Doctor (JD) programme would cut out the need for non-law students having to study a one-year full-time LLM course in the US before being eligible to sit the exam.

The United States of London

CoL is the first and only provider in the UK to ­provide non-law graduates with the option of ­following a direct route to the NYB exam and ­therefore to qualification as a lawyer in New York.

“This could address the big problems students are having trying to get training contracts in the UK,” insists Savage. “Theoretically they could study over here, then be employed in a US firm in London as an American attorney, or they could practise in the States.”

Although the programme is principally ­targeted at domestic students, CoL is hoping to attract graduates from overseas universities, ­particularly from the US and South-East Asia.

The additional 22-week study programme, ­following completion of the GDL and then either the LPC or BPTC, includes electives in US ­business and securities law. Students can take these additional electives in the UK or, subject to the outcome of current negotiations, at a top 10 US law school.

CoL has also announced a partnership with Northwestern University School of Law in ­Chicago. Subsequently it will be assisting CoL in designing and ultimately delivering the ­additional electives that are required to enable students to sit the NYB exam.

Lauren Rasmus, director of legal recruitment at Dewey & LeBoeuf in New York, says she could understand why CoL’s programme would attract students to the UK from the US.

“After college, students who want to work in the legal profession have to go to law school for three years to get their JD. It really is a very long process,” she explains.

The cost of learning

What’s more, law school does not come cheap in the US. Research by the American Bar ­Association has found that the average student coming out of law school has around $120,000 (£78,617) of debt. This does not include any debt they would have incurred from university.

What CoL is proposing, however, is that ­theoretically students in the US will be able to skip the costly three years at law school and come to the UK to study the GDL, LPC or BPTC. They will then be eligible to sit the NYB exam, cutting out a year of study and possibly shrinking the cost.

Elsewhere, other law schools have also been quick to bolt on NYB courses to their programme offering. Kaplan Altior (a sister company to Kaplan Law School) has announced that it is offering an online NYB programme for students who have a UK law degree or who are otherwise eligible to follow the programme. The ­programme will be delivered in association with US company, Kaplan PMBR.

Meanwhile, BPP Law School has been running a similar course for three years aimed specifically at UK-qualified solicitors or barristers who want a certificate to practise as a lawyer in the US.

But to avoid any confusion, it is important to point out that CoL’s NYB programme is different from the courses offered by Kaplan and BPP because it allows non-law students a direct route to American qualification.