Emma Dickinson looks into the difficulty getting data on qualification and employment rates for LPC and GDL graduates
The legal market is changing. Following the introduction of alternative business structures and the potential changes to be implemented following the Legal Education and Training Review, junior lawyers are faced with more choices than ever of how to qualify and more educational establishments offering increasingly diverse courses with a multitude of options.
This free market free for all is all very well but invariably any choice made will be expensive, so how do potential junior lawyers know when starting out that they are choosing the route to qualification with the best institution for their needs that will assist them in the ultimate goal of finding a job and qualifying?
A reasonable assumption would be to check what proportion of former alumni succeeded in getting a job and/or qualifying after graduation, however this information is either extremely difficult to find or simply isn’t available. The SRA website currently lists 51 providers in England and Wales that offer the Legal Practice Course and/ or Graduate Diploma in Law.
Course providers range from specialised colleges that only offer professional legal training courses to more generalised universities or colleges that offer the LPC or GDL as one of many courses on a variety of subjects. If a course provider is a registered university, usually they have to provide data to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which is an official government agency that collects, analyses and distributes information about higher education, including whether former students have found employment.
The HESA states on their website that they “support the advancement of UK higher education by collecting, analysing and disseminating accurate and comprehensive statistical information in response to the needs of all those with an interest in its characteristics and a stake in its future”. Unfortunately the information that is available is not consumer friendly or readily accessible to prospective students.
Firstly the information often takes so long to collect and publish that it is difficult to get relevant updated information. At the time of writing you can obtain for free statistics on the HESA website for the destination of leavers from higher education institutions for the years 2005/06. If you want information for later years (for example, if you want to see what impact the introduction of alternative business structures has had on your potential choice of university) you either have to pay to obtain the information or it simply isn’t available.
Even when the information is free and available online, there is so much of it that it is baffling and therefore inaccessible. The HESA has a wide remit and, although in some cases it does attempt to provide breakdowns for certain industries, you would need a team of statisticians to help you wade through the lists of statistics and make some sort of relatively informed decision. Even assuming that you could wade through the information that is available, LPC and GDL providers that are not universities are not usually obliged to collect information on the destinations of their graduates or report to the HESA.
Technology such as centralised cloud computers, emails and social media should make it easier for institutions to at least attempt to collect data from their alumni but there seems to be a fundamental resistance to doing so. Although some course providers do collect data on their alumni voluntarily this is not always collected and published consistently.
Following a request under the Freedom of information Act to all LPC and GDL providers listed on the SRA website earlier this year, nearly 60 per cent of providers failed to provide me with any consistent useable data on basic questions, such as whether their students had obtained training contracts or jobs. Of the minority of providers that did provide me with any information, none said they had collected any data on their former students more than two years after graduation.
If institutions offering the LPC and GDL collected and reviewed data on the destinations of their students regularly they would be better able to understand the needs of their students and tailor courses to be more effective and efficient. Without such information one may even question how course providers can make informed decisions about course content and training provision.
It is now a regulatory requirement by the SRA for firms to collect, monitor, store and publish data on the diversity of their workforce and it is a regulatory aim of the SRA to encourage diversity in the profession. Collecting consistent data across the profession on diversity means that the profession can review diversity and target efforts to meet its stated aims.
If the SRA made it a regulatory requirement for all providers of legal education and training to collect consistent relevant data on diversity and destinations of former students, this would allow junior lawyers to make informed decisions about their routes to qualification. This is bound to assist in monitoring diversity and targeting efforts to increase it, which in turn should benefit the profession as a whole.
Emma Dickinson, JLD executive committee, 2011-13