In the Media

Law school BPP accused of exploiting demand to rake in more fees.

PUBLISHED December 7, 2009

One of London?s most prestigious law schools is under investigation amid allegations that it exploited student demand, packing in extra numbers to boost income by almost £1 million.

BPP, which takes more than 1,000 aspiring lawyers in London a year ? many for top ?magic circle? law firms ? is under inquiry by the Bar?s regulatory body after exceeding its approved quota by more than 25 per cent.

The inquiry is a blow to the standing of BPP which has four branches across London as well centres in Manchester and Leeds. Earlier this year it was bought for £305 million by Apollo Global, an American company now itself under investigation over alleged accounting irregularities.

The move over BPP has prompted questions about the level of scrutiny and regulation of law schools which, like BPP, have foreign owners but can award UK degrees, and which provide the cream of Britain?s legal entrants.

The present debacle arose this autumn when 24 of some 60 full- and part-time ?excess? students for the one-year Bar Vocational Course lodged complaints with the Bar Standards Board, the profession?s regulatory body.

Among their complaints was the allegation that some had been ?de-enrolled? just days before starting their course. Others claim that they were told they had passed the deadline for handing over their deposit.

By this stage students had already rented accommodation, paid for their books and some been offered training places (pupillages) in Chambers on the basis that they were doing the course.

In a move to reduce numbers one student was offered a part-time place at the BPP branch in Leeds instead; and another a place on the solicitors? training course instead of the Bar course.

One said: ?It was just a matter of days before I was due to start when I was told that I had been ?de-enrolled?. It was a real shock. I had moved to London, sorted my accommodation and was ready to go.?

In the end, after protests, all extra students offered places were taken on.

But the Bar Standards Board has asked the school to put on extra lectures and hire extra staff. It also has to pay £55,000 to meet the costs of the ?quality assurance? inquiry.

However, the fee income from the extra students is estimated at £700,000 to £900,000. A full report is to be published by the board shortly.

Nigel Savage, chief executive of the rival training institution, the College of Law, which operates as a charitable trust, said: ?The issue here is one of regulation. Is it right that a foreign person can?t buy a football club without being a ?fit and proper person? yet can buy a British law school with degree-awarding powers??

Peter Crisp, BPP chief executive, said the school had over-recruited but that all offers had been honoured. He insisted that the informal investigation into Apollo was nothing to do with BPP. ?We remain a UK company subject to UK legislation,? he said.

Case study

Like hundreds of aspiring lawyers, ?A? had spent several months hammering on the doors of barristers? chambers in and around the Inns of Court to secure a training place. But despite having achieved a top degree, she went for 15 interviews before being offered a pupillage with a well-known London set.

She moved into accommodation in London, secured with the help of a scholarship from one of the Inns of Court, and was set to start. She was then told: ?You?ve been de-enrolled on our computer system because the Bar Council rules limit the number of students we can take.?

She protested and BPP relented. Three weeks into the course, on September 28, she said that BPP informed all students that any of them wishing to step down could defer their course until next year.

Some 24 students then lodged complaints with the Bar Standards Board. ?People are incredibly disillusioned and they feel BPP has treated them very badly,? she said.