Revealed: Law Society considers aptitude test to reduce numbers on LPC

Job hunt: the disparity between law students and training contracts is growing

The Law Society is considering the feasibility of an aptitude test for entry onto the legal practice course (LPC) that will reduce student numbers, Legal Futures can reveal.

It is one of a series of initiatives being examined to “manage” entry to the profession because of concerns that too many students are coming through the system. Others include a “warts and all” guide to qualification as a solicitor – due to be launched next month – as well as incentives for firms to provide training contracts.

Though the idea of incentives has not yet been progressed, Chancery Lane has appointed a consultant to investigate whether to follow the Bar in requiring prospective students to pass a test before being allowed to start their vocational training.

The proposals have been developed by the society’s education and training committee – at the request of chief executive Des Hudson – because of the increasing disparity between the number of LPC graduates and the number of available training contracts.

The society’s regulatory affairs board heard yesterday that the details of the consultancy project are still being finalised, but it is hoped a report will be received by late 2010 or early 2011.

The Bar Standards Board is currently piloting an aptitude test that assesses analytical and critical reasoning, and fluency in the English language.

There was a voluntary pilot last year, in which 182 people took part. A second pilot is compulsory for all those starting the course this month – although obviously not as an entry requirement – which is intended to provide a more detailed examination of the suitability of the proposed test as well as enabling the necessary sampling and analysis to ensure that the test is be fair for all applicants.

The BSB hopes that the aptitude test will be fully implemented for those starting in 2012. Nigel Cooper QC, chairman of the bar professional training course sub-committee, said: “The BSB wishes to ensure that the aptitude test is fully piloted prior to its introduction and is therefore proceeding cautiously. The first pilot was a limited exercise, designed to consider the general suitability of the test. A second pilot will now be conducted in autumn 2010, as planned, to enable more detailed testing and the accurate setting of the pass threshold. This is necessary due to the need to ensure the aptitude entry test will be fit for purpose before it is finalised and becomes an absolute entry requirement.”

Last year the Office of Fair Trading said the BSB’s aptitude test would have a significant effect on competition and that its aims could be achieved by a less restrictive route.

Reasons given by the BSB for introducing the test included: it is wrong to admit so many students to an expensive course when so few will obtain pupillage and the less well-off, of high ability, will be deterred from choosing a career at the Bar for this reason; the standard of admission to the course is too low, particularly as to the fluency in English, and the weaker students impede teaching and learning within their groups; there are too many students taking the course with no realistic prospect of pupillage;  and it would reduce the numbers of Bar students to manageable proportions.


    Readers Comments

  • Sue Nelson says:

    Aptitude testing for those thinking of becoming a solicitor is such a bad idea. One of the great things about qualifying as a solicitor is that it opens up a wide range of careers which are suited to a very wide range of sets of aptitudes. If you like fast turn around work, head for crime; if you like detailed intellectually challenging work, head of IP or corporate work; if people are your greatest interest in life, look at family or child law. There is no single set of aptitudes for being a solicitor. Some narrower careers, such as being an airline pilot or a nurse, are much more suited to the use of aptitude filters. The narrower the set of aptitudes for any given career the more useful testing is.

    What the professional body does need to do is ensure those considering joining the profession know just what’s involved, how tough it is and all the available options.

    What I would like to see is a reliable way of determining who has the ability (not aptitude) to become a solicitors so time and money is not wasted on training which cannot result in qualification.

    Sue Nelson
    Law Society Council member and member of the Law Society’s Education and Training Committee

  • Jon Harman says:

    I totally agree with Sue, the notion of aptitude test is a bad idea it focuses down on a criteria which creates a candle problem, see the excellent TED Talk by Daniel Pink and seek out the Marshmallow Challenge for insight here. We need a diversity of skills and abilities in a rapidly changing industry with ever changing levels of complexity, we need more sensemaking than test passing with our future lawyers – being rather than knowing. We need to then focus on who is providing this type of legal education and who is not. Deal with that rather than preventing entrance to the industry through testing.

    We often confuse academic attainment with brightness and capability, this would probably compound that.

  • Tomas Martinez-Navarro says:

    Hello there,

    I usually follow the legal practice in UK and Europe, to get a general vision about how the legal profession works there. I practice in Venezuela (South America).

    I think that is very positive the competition among lawyers because this can incentive all of them to be better profesionals, obtain the best profiles for themselves and get the best contracts. On the other hand, at the end of the day, the market will have very good lawyers in different legal ocupations.

    For all these reasons, any of you can give me your opinion about:

    Why do you think is the real intention to reduce the number of law students in the LPC?

    Why do they consider that the high number of candidates is a problem?

    Thanks in advance for your replies.

    ps: Follow me on twitter: @tomas_martinez

  • Sue Nelson is spot on.

    An individual may not have the aptitude to be one type of lawyer but is naturally cut out to be a completely different type of lawyer. Such a proposal will, of course, achieve its objective because some potential solicitors will not be allowed through to the LPC so the numbers graduating will decrease.

    A result – but at what cost? Potentially excellent lawyers thrown on the scrapheap.

    See my blog on this issue at The Law Career Blog:

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