I read in the press last week that the College of Law had become Britain’s first “for-profit” University and it will now change its name to the University of Law. It seems that it is the first private provider of education to be granted a University title since the government relaxed rules to encourage new operators into Britain’s higher education market and only the second since 1983 to receive University status.
The College was a charity up until April 2012 when it sold the Law School and the rights to the name College of Law for about £200m to Montagu Private Equity, a venture capital firm.
I am not convinced that a venture capital firm getting involved with the training of our future lawyers is a good thing for our profession. As I have mentioned in a recent firm’s newsletter, since October 2011 non lawyers can now either run their own law firm outright or be in partnership with lawyers (these new concerns are called Alternative Business Structures or for short ABS’s).
These new entrants will be focused primarily on making a profit for their investors or shareholders and in my view the need to maximise profits will inevitably clash with those duties which lawyers owe to our clients (or should we now be calling them customers).
The change of legal status for the College of Law is just another step in allowing the “money men” into our profession. They want to expand the number of law courses including on-line law courses and they will be introducing accelerated undergraduate law degrees over 2 years instead of the traditional 3 years at the current Universities.
I am at a loss to understand why there is this drive to have more law graduates especially in light of the changes the government introduced last October. The priority of these new ABS’s is to make a profit – one of the ways this will be achieved is by them employing fewer qualified lawyers (who are deemed to be too expensive) and making more use of non lawyers and paralegals. It is very sad that students are being encouraged to obtain law degrees with a view to becoming a solicitor when so few training contracts will now exist in the future for them.
I appreciate that the legal profession needs to adapt to the 21st century but we should not lose sight that we are lawyers (and not venture capitalists) and our priority at all times is to provide an excellent and competent service to our clients and not to make money at the expense of client care.