The number of students to have submitted legal practice course (LPC) applications is down 10% on 2013, according to official figures seen by the Gazette.
At 30 June, a total of 4,382 prospective students had submitted applications for the LPC, compared with 4,865 at the same time last year, figures from the Central Applications Board admissions service show.
This is the second consecutive year of decline. In 2013/14 the number of students to enrol on LPC courses fell 8.4% to 5,198, the Gazette revealed in December.
The decline appears to reflect growing realism about the jobs market, experts said. Peter Crisp, chief executive of LPC provider BPP Law School, said the number is beginning to reflect more closely the number of training contracts available each year, estimated to be around 4,500.
Sophia Dirir (pictured), chair of the Junior Lawyers Division, said the latest figures indicate a growing awareness among students that spending £12,000 on a LPC is no guarantee of a training contract. But she expressed concern that the decline reflects a fall in the number of people from poorer backgrounds, 'as they can least afford to take a gamble on the LPC'.
Dirir said the Solicitors Regulation Authority should limit the number of LPC places to reflect training contract opportunities available.
However Fiona Fargher, LPC programme manager at Liverpool John Moores University, said the fall in applications does not necessarily indicate a loss of appetite for the LPC route, as the figures do not reflect the rise in popularity of part-time courses, or the possibility of more students applying before the September deadline.
Meanwhile, this month the SRA removed the mandatory minimum salary for students winning training contract places, and ceased stipulating the terms of contracts as part of its deregulation drive.
Previously the minimum salary was £18,590 per year for training contracts based in central London and £16,650 for those outside the capital.
Fargher said she was 'not persuaded that this relaxation of regulation will increase the number of training contracts'.
She added: 'I have a real concern that these changes may expose those who obtain training contracts to exploitation, with a narrower breadth of training on a lower wage.'