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17 August 2012 at 11:39 BST

British students flock to law courses despite hard job market

British students are flocking to law school, flying in the face of dire warnings from the legal profession that career prospects are tighter than they've been for years, statistics released this week show.

College of Law: expecting a flood of students

College of Law: expecting a flood of students

The recently privatised College of Law and its private sector counterpart BPP Law School both reported dramatic recent increases in applications for their law degree courses.
The Surrey-based College of Law boasted that its new undergraduate law degree ‘is on course to have a higher number of students in its first year than any of the more than 50 law degrees that have launched in the UK in the past decade’. While London-base weekly newspaper, the Law Gazette, said BPP reckoned applications for its law degree were nearly 80 per cent up.

Rocketing fees

Both figures – reports the newspaper – contrast sharply with the general picture involving UK degree courses, with applications broadly down by nearly 9 per cent compared with last year. That drop is widely attributed to a regime of significantly increased tuition fees imposed by the current British government.
But he increased demand for law degree places has prompted the College of Law to extend its programme to an additional branch; its new accelerated two-year degree course will now be offered at its Guildford headquarters centre as well as in Chester, Birmingham and London. And BPP chief executive Peter Crisp told the Gazette that the boom in interest illustrated that students were choosing ‘career relevant degrees’.
However, the increase in numbers will exacerbate concerns expressed by some that the legal profession job market in England is on the verge of meltdown. Despite the worst recession in generations, both solicitor and barrister numbers have increased over the last five years, although the latter at a much slower pace.

Too many students

And those concerns are hardly limited to the UK. Senior US legal figures have recently expressed similar worries about law schools pumping too many students into a market that is economically unable to absorb them.
One leading Miami-based lawyer this week posited a novel idea to alleviate the pressures. Writing in The National Law Journal, former US Attorney Kendall Coffey, suggested that recently graduated and qualified lawyers should be prepared to pitch their services at America’s massive middle class, which has a significant need for legal advice, and yet cannot afford standard law firm fee rates.  
‘New lawyers could charge much lower rates and keep the earnings for themselves,’ advises Mr Coffey, currently a partner at Coffey Burlington. ‘Rates of between $50 and $125 per hour would make new lawyers affordable to the middle class while providing the lawyers with enough income to succeed.’

Wholesale reassessment

Mr Coffey acknowledges that this gearing down would require a wholesale law school reassessment of legal education. ‘Many law schools would have to revise their curricula as well as the expectations of their students,’ he cautions. ‘Along with classes on law firm operations and management, more clinics are needed to provide, under supervision, legal experience with real people whose problems include basic transactions (ranging from wills and prenuptial agreements to business and real estate contracts) and a wide array of litigation matters (from foreclosure defence to child-custody disputes).’


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