A Baptism of Fire: The LPC
I’m sorry if I’ve developed an uncharacteristically long delay in responding to your messages. I’m sorry if I’m stressed and grumpy and tired at the moment. I’m sorry if I’m not free for coffee or weekend catch-ups or dinner. I’m sorry if I’ve recently cancelled on your or double-booked myself. I’m sorry if I appear stingy whenever you suggest doing something. The thing is... I'm doing the LPC, because I'm very nearly, almost, a corporate trainee,
“What’s the LPC?” I hear some of your cry with confusion. “You’re at university but not a normal university?!” “You’re at university but you’re only there from July to January?!” “You have a job but you don’t know if you can start that job until you’ve done this course?!” “You can’t stretch to dinner, I thought you were a corporate solicitor?!”
Most weeks I get at least some of these questions fired at me, or implied, couched in British etiquette and restraint. Often delivered with baffled expressions and furrowed brows, most people don’t really know what I do, and the idea of having a job lined up but not quite being there yet seems absurd, paradoxically comforting and nerve-wracking at the same time.
So, let me explain what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
The Legal Practice Course (LPC)
I knew very little about what to expect of my LPC before I dived head-first into it. I knew I was starting in July, that I’d be in the office by March (exam results pending), and that I was about to wave goodbye to much of the academic aspects of law I so loved during my LLB. I knew that the course would be drier and more practical than anything legal I’d ever studied before, that it would be intense and it would be in London. And that’s all I knew.
The LPC is the final stage before a training contract (TC). It can be six months, a year, or even longer if done alongside work or study. It’s a kind of skill-rich baptism of fire which prepares students for the tasks they’ll be expected to complete as trainees in a firm. There are compulsory modules including core legal skills such as drafting, interviewing clients, legal writing and legal research, alongside overviews of key areas of law. These are accompanied by electives, which may or may not be chosen by you, depending on whether you have a TC lined up for after your LPC.
There are two disclaimers to be aware of in reading this:
The LPC is soon giving way to the Solicitor’s Qualifying Exam. Whilst the process to qualify as a solicitor will look slightly different as the new regime comes in, the requisite content and skills will cover a relatively similar scope. Any LPC-specific information should be taken with a pinch of salt for anyone looking to reach this step in a few years’ time, bearing in mind that the process will have changed by then.
Everyone has a different experience of the LPC – cheesy but true. What I find dull, others in my class enthusiastically lap up. They can roll out tax equations like pieces of fine art in seconds, or expertly navigate the CPR, delving deep into its rules and practice directions, lingering on every word as if it’s Shakespeare’s finest work. These things don’t excite me, or (at least as concerns tax) come particularly naturally to me.
The six-month plan
Any of you who know me vaguely will know that I’m an obsessive, compulsive planner. Daily to-do lists. Five-year goals. Ten-year goals. General life goals. There’s even a tourist’s to-do list in the back of my diary of places to go, and things to do, now I’m a resident tourist in London.
So, what’s the plan for the next six months?
I’m now (scarily) about a quarter of the way through the LPC, at least the teaching part of it. I have lectures throughout from July until mid-September, then I have exams, I change modules and the process starts over – lectures followed by exams in December/January. Throughout January and February, I’ll have a project which is assessed via an essay for an MSC.
Exams are quite varied. I’ll have an advocacy exam when I’ll have to don a blazer and pretend I’m in a courtroom making a case, or defending one. I’ll have an interviewing exam when I’ll have to pretend to be a solicitor, and interview a prospective client. Then I have take-home research, legal writing and drafting tasks which are released online for me to complete and re-submit within a given time limit. Finally, each module has a multiple-choice question exam and a written exam. I’m currently doing mocks for these exams and the legal research exam.
The six-month goal has to keep you going, to get to the finish line. Whether it’s pushing on with revision when it seems dull, or you’re certain you don’t want to practice a particular kind of law, or you’re feeling tired and overwhelmed… you know that what’s waiting at the end is much more interesting, intellectually stimulating and commercially engaging than the work you’re currently doing. You just have to put in the hours of fieldwork and training to be able to have the right skills and basic knowledge to approach the fun, and more difficult, stuff.
The weekly plan
My working week comprises of around five two-hour seminar-style sessions in a group of 15-20 other folks all with TCs at Linklaters. There’s another Linklaters class of a similar size who do the same things at different times throughout the week. These sessions require preparatory reading plus the completion of tasks to bring to, discuss and further develop in class. If you could spy your classmates on Facebook or Amazon during your undergrad seminars, letting two or three keen bean law geeks (I’m admittedly and undeniably in this category) carry the burden of contributing, there’s none of that on my LPC. There’s no winging it or sitting silently in the corner indulging in some cheeky retail therapy or social media. You have to come prepared and you have to be on-the-ball to contribute. Then there’s the C word – consolidation.
Consolidation has become the mantra of the LPC. The anthem of our lives. The ever-present voice in our heads. The fast-track LPC moves very quickly, covering several modules over the space of eight weeks before examining them. Typically, I have three or four different subjects a week. Usually, I’ll have two lectures on two of these modules, and one on any others. This means anywhere between two hours’ prep (if you’re lucky) and up to seven- or eight-hours’ prep (if you’re really unlucky) per seminar per week, plus making your notes comprehensible and concise, plus doing the set consolidation tasks and online consolidation practices, revision for mock exams and completing any real exams you’re currently undertaking. So, although two to four hours’ contact time a day sounds like a breeze, the LPC is actually a very stressful and hectic time.
Tasks are much more client-centric and advice-based. Let me compare the experience to my undergraduate, where my tutors in Sheffield did a wonderful job of teaching my classes about public and private companies. In my final year, I wrote a 4,000-word essay essentially looking into the accepted definition of “shareholder” and how reconfiguring our conceptions could lead to more sustainable long-termism in business investment and development. Maybe my housemate’s reaction when I gushed about my plan resounds with you, “mmm… who knew you could write so much about one word?” As an undergraduate, though, this made perfect sense. The essay was practical to some degree but largely it was academic and theoretical. On the LPC, things are different. When we look at shareholders, we’re looking at their rights. Which decisions by a company require shareholder approval? How is a general meeting of shareholders called? What should be included in a notice to call a general meeting? How long before the general meeting should notice be given? How are decisions taken? What are the requisites for a decision to be valid, such as the relevant quorum? Can there be a proxy? What documents have to be made available to shareholders, if any, in advance of a meeting? For how long must they be made available? What administration has to be done after a general meeting? Where do you find all of this information in legislation? This information is unquestionably more practical and useful for serving a client. However, it's almost always more dull than the academic exploration of these subjects, and the reality of using knowledge and skills daily in an office environment.
Hopefully you now have a flavour for some of the realities of a fast-track LPC. The highs of the fast-paced, intense content and more practical application, which offers a glimmer of what serving a real client will be like, alongside stress from high volumes of work, not knowing what to prioritise, and knowing that if you fail, you’re unlikely to have a job and very likely to have significantly added to your already-substantial student debt.
The LPC is a kind of baptism of fire. The good thing about fire? It refines! A fast-track LPC is an high-pressure environment which (hopefully) equips you with some of the skills you’ll use daily in life as a trainee. I've heard opinions both ways from those who have qualified, that the LPC is either a breeze or an uphill struggle... Right now, it feels much like the latter, but we'll wait to see how I feel looking back, once I'm in the office as a trainee with the more stringent time pressures and commitments which that will bring with it!