Many startups style themselves as ‘disrupters’, but I suspect the new College of Legal Practice is not exaggerating. With the solicitor super-exam still two years away, flinging down the gauntlet to the existing training behemoths by pledging to undercut them by up to 50% on courses for the new ‘super-exam’ is quite a statement.
There is real heft here. Nigel Savage, perhaps the towering figure in solicitor education, is but one member of a heavyweight board. Though the venture will initially set its sights on ‘alternative’ providers, look who is present from the magic circle: Freshfields’ in-house innovation guru and a former big-hitter at Slaughter and May. No fly-by-night dabblers on a shoestring here.
A fully digital sales pitch is touted as a critical differentiator that will meet the SRA’s aim of ‘democratising’ access to the legal profession. The college says its location-agnostic approach will be ‘significantly more affordable’ than the usual suspects and reflects its ‘fundamental commitment’ to students who would otherwise have been disadvantaged by the current regime underpinned by the training contract.
Pledging to ‘Uberise’ legal training was unfortunate in the week the taxi app had its London licence removed. But one would not necessarily take issue with the premise that the existing training market is both homogeneous and hidebound – and too expensive. Classroom learning in beautifully appointed, city-centre buildings is surely obsolescent in the age of online and remote learning.
We must, of course, reserve judgement until the market begins properly to take shape. As for social mobility, we know that the super-exam is going to cost up to a hefty £4,500 even before preparatory courses enter the equation; and funding options are not available for examinations alone. Nor do we know precisely how what is going to be in the exam will shape the on- and offline learning experience.
That said, I cannot think of too many aspiring solicitors who will be disturbed by the prospect of a training price war. Bring it on.