A lack of clear information about the choices on offer makes choosing the right LPC a tricky business. Emma Dickinson from the JLD executive committee, investigates.

There are a wide variety of institutions that offer the higher education courses needed to complete the academic stage of training prior to qualifying as a solicitor across the UK. But in the current climate of free market enterprise when there is so much choice, how can students at the very beginning of their legal careers make an informed decision about which institution and course are right for them?

This issue is becoming increasingly important as rising costs of higher education and earlier specialisation makes even simple choices like choosing electives a potentially career changing decision for potential junior solicitors.

Potential undergraduates looking for institutions offering law degrees can find an updated list ofinstitutions with a search function including the geographical breakdown and potential fees on the UCAS website.

However if you are a potential junior lawyer trying to find a course provider offering a qualifying law degree, Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or Legal Practice Course (LPC), it is surprisingly difficult to find information you need, such as which institutions offerwhich courses and how much it will cost.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) website has a purported list of all providers in England and Wales that offer the LPC. The list is provided in alphabetical order without a geographical breakdown. Assuming you are able to find from this very long list which providers maybe suitable for you, you must then manually review each provider’s profile to find out moreinformation about the provider and course offered. This interface is therefore time consuming and difficult to use even when trying to extract very basic information.

At the time of writing theinformation provided about providers on the SRA website is dated June 2007, making it more than five years out of date. Therefore, assuming a potential student had the time and inclination toperform this exercise it may not provide any relevant useful information in any event.

Even if a student finds an institution they like and tries to search on that institution’s website formore up to date details, it is often surprisingly difficult to confirm what course options and costs are.

This is because several providers do not publish details of fees on their websites and will only provide information if they are called directly. There is also other information that students may need to make an informed choice but cannotaccess because this is not available in a readily accessible source.

In the worst case scenario theycould find themselves in a situation similar to students who enrolled with the London Metropolitan University (‘London Met’) last year when the UK Border Agency (UKBA) threatened to revoke the licence of London Met to teach and recruit students from outside the European Economic Area.

For the overseas students who had previously enrolled with the London Met (more than 2,000 according to one report) this would mean that they will be deported unless they immediately findand enrol on another course in England or Wales. Not only does this present a considerableadministrative problem, but presumably those students will also have to find the additionalpayments necessary to meet the extra course fees to enrol at the new institution, as well as dealwith last minute reading and preparations before term started within a very short space of time.

These students are bound to be placed at a substantial disadvantage at the beginning of their coursecompared to their contemporaries through no fault of their own. At the time of writing it is reportedthat the London Met is pursuing a judicial review of the decision by UKBA, however because of the imminent start of term and delays in the judicial process several students have already been forcedto take the expensive but necessary step to find and enrol with another course provider.

There have also been calls for the London Met to make clear statements about its financial status asthere are worries about other students enrolled with the London Met. The loss of so many overseas fee paying students means that the university faces a substantial hole in the university’s budget andpotential uncertainty as to its future, with the result that those students may face a similar choice of transfer to another institution at increased expense, even if they are part way through their courses.

The situation at London Met raises the issue of what information was and is readily available tostudents. Had they known about the potential problems at their course provider, would they havemade the same decision to study there? Even if students enrol and complete a course withoutincident, there is also limited information available about their potential prospects of finding a joband what they could earn. For more information, see my Data Collection for Junior Lawyers article(http://juniorlawyers.lawsociety.org.uk/files/data-collection-junior-lawyers-emma-dickinson.pdf).

In order to manage current finances and future career effectively, students need to be able to access clear and relevant information about learning institutions, including the courses they offer and therelevant costs. When this information is not available the question unfortunately remains; how doyou make an informed decision in order to choose the right LPC for you? I wish I had an answer.