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Legal Practice Course (LPC): an Overview
From September 2021, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is being phased in as the new centralised way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. It will replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is the former route to practicing law, and once the transitional phase is over law schools in England and Wales will stop offering the LPC. The SQE is a new system of exams divided into two stages – SQE1 and SQE2 – that will be introduced from September 2021, and all prospective candidates will have to pass both stages of exams to qualify as a solicitor. As well as passing both stages of the SQE, prospective candidates must complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and demonstrate that they have suitable character to work in this field.
Put simply, to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales through the new SQE route you need to:
1. Have a university degree in ANY subject.
2. Pass SQE1 and SQE2 exams.
3. Complete two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
4. Demonstrate suitable character.
The SQE differs from the LPC in that it is a series of exams rather than an actual course, as a result of this the SQE does not involve any direct education or training. New law conversion course options will be launched alongside the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to offer students a range of options to prepare for the SQE.
Read our article on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination for the complete lowdown.
What about the Legal Practice Course?
The Legal Practice Course – or LPC as it is often referred to – is a vocational training course that used to be the route for candidates wanting to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. Under this route, qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales was a three-stage process: the academic stage (your qualifying degree or law conversion course), the vocational stage (the LPC), and then the professional stage (the much sought after training contract.) The standards for the LPC syllabus are set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the course is offered by accredited institutions known as LPC providers, some of which are universities. You could say that the LPC is essentially law school. The introduction of the SQE in September 2021 means that everyone who becomes a lawyer will undergo the exact same process and meet the same high standards..
The LPC is not applicable to aspiring barristers in England and Wales; they take a different vocational course called the Bar – previously Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Qualifying in Scotland, whether as a solicitor or barrister, involves a slightly different process. You can get more information on qualifying in Scotland from The Law Society of Scotland and The Faculty of Advocates.
The LPC syllabus is quite intensive and is a mix of core, compulsory, elective and practical modules covering a wide range of topics in law and practice as well as skills in research, interviewing, advising and advocacy.
LPC tuition fees
The Legal Practice Course does not come cheap. The LPC tuition fees range from around £8,000 to £14,000, depending on the provider you choose and the location; LPC providers in London tend to cost more. Some large law firms may offer to cover all or part of the LPC costs as part of their training contract package and many have their preferred LPC providers. Click here to find out more about fees and funding for your postgraduate law course.
Qualifications you need to take the LPC
To apply to take an LPC you must complete the first stage, which is the academic stage – usually a first degree, but if you’ve gone on to do a Master of Laws that would also count as the academic stage, as long as one of your law degrees is a qualifying law degree. A qualifying law degree is structured to provide training in the seven foundation modules of legal knowledge specified by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board. Not all law degrees are necessarily qualifying degrees, and if yours is not then you would have to take a law conversion course, either the Common Professional Exam or Graduate Diploma in Law, before you can go on to the next second stage in the process, which is the vocational stage - the Legal Practice Course.
If your first degree is not in law, you’d also have to do a law conversion course before applying for the LPC. The legal profession encourages candidates from varying graduate backgrounds to enter the field of law as that creates a diverse body of knowledge and experience.
If you’ve taken the vocational exams for aspiring barristers – the Bar Professional Training Course or BPTC – but have not yet completed a pupillage and you would like to switch and qualify as a solicitor, you would also have to take the LPC, although you may be eligible for exemptions from some modules based on your prior learning.
Regardless of how you meet the requirements of the academic stage of the process, you must first become a student member of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) before starting the LPC.
Studying for an LPC
The LPC is vocational training that builds on the legal knowledge you gained in your qualifying law degree or law conversion course by developing the skills and commercial awareness you will need to be a solicitor on a day-to-day basis.
It hones your legal skills, transforming what was largely academic legal theory into really relevant practice.
On an LPC you will learn the processes, procedures and practicalities around business, property, family, civil and criminal law, as well as litigation, professional conduct and ethics. You will also work on problem solving, simulated transactions, case studies and real-life scenarios. There are also presentations and a lot of group work.
It’s a lot of work but you will come out on the other side better equipped to handle the practical challenges of being a trainee solicitor, the final stage before you become fully qualified to practice as a solicitor.
Full time, part time or distance learning?
The LPC can be studied full time, which would mean one year of solid graft, or part-time, which doesn’t make the course any easier, but means that you have two years to complete it. On one hand, by doing the LPC part time means you will have more time and can pace yourself, but on the flip side it will take you longer to qualify as a solicitor. Many of the course providers offer a mix of attendance and distance learning, with lectures available online.
How to find the right LPC provider
Standards for the LPC are set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) so as long as you’re sure that the LPC provider you’re considering is one that is accredited by the SRA, you can be reasonably confident that the course content is as required. Finding the best LPC provider is really about finding the best LPC provider for you, which depends on where you live and intend to work as a solicitor and how much money you have available to fund the course. If you plan to work for a regional firm then it may be a good idea to check out the LPC providers in those areas. They may not cost as much as the providers in London and could have tailored their syllabus to suit the needs of regional law firms. If a commercial career in the City of London is your goal, you’d do well to find out what institutions previous trainees in your shortlisted firms have attended. If you land yourself a training contract before starting the LPC, it may be that the firm that offered you the contract has one of two preferred providers for you to choose from. If the firm is paying for you to take the LPC then choosing a provider may even be taken entirely out of your hands.
Moving on to the issue of money, if you are self-funding or taking out a loan to pay for the course this might influence your choice of providers – how much are you willing to spend or rack up as debt, particularly if you don’t have offers of a training contract yet? Are you willing to take the gamble of paying to attend the pricier institutions, in the hope that it will make you attractive to the firms you want, or will you play it safe and look for a mid-priced LPC provider?
LPC or LLM
It is difficult to compare a Legal Practice Course with a Master of Laws as the LPC is a mandatory step towards qualifying as a solicitor while an LLM, though desirable, is optional. It is however possible to look at the pros and cons of taking the LPC before an LLM or vice versa.
LPC before an LLM
One benefit of doing the LPC straight after your first degree instead of waiting until after you’ve completed an LLM is that you cut down the number of years before you qualify. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that if you’re fortunate to secure a training contract before starting or while taking the LPC, your immediate next step would be to start your training and you might end up putting off the LLM, or not doing it at all. After you complete your training contract and qualify as a solicitor it may be a few more years before you can take a break from work to do your Master’s, unless you feel able to do a part-time LLM while you work.
LLM before the LPC
An LLM could enhance your CV if you’re aiming for a training contract at the larger law firms and you feel that your first degree is from a less prestigious university. It can’t hurt to try to improve your chances, particularly considering the stiff competition for training contracts; every year the number of LPC grads far outweighs the number of training contracts available. Law is notoriously competitive and many of your adversaries would have first class qualifications or would have graduated from red brick universities such as Oxbridge, while others may have the advantage of fluency in a foreign language. It really helps to stand out from the crowd, and getting an LLM in a specialist field of law, particularly from a highly-regarded university, could mean that you have the large law firms seeking you out while you sit back and choose!
If your first degree is not in law and you want to qualify as a solicitor but plan to do an LLM before the LPC, make sure you do a qualifying LLM so that you become eligible to take the LPC.
LPC vs LLM
In summary, the Legal Practice Course is a mandatory stage in the process of becoming a solicitor, while an LLM provides you with an opportunity to specialise and could make you an attractive candidate to law firms, but is not a compulsory requirement. It’s important to bear it in mind that having a Master of Laws degree does not exempt you from doing the LPC if you want to qualify as a solicitor.Find your PERFECT LLM PROGRAM
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