Leading City of London law firms have abandoned a lucrative partnership with three British universities branded "elitist" by the Lord Chief Justice.
Oxford, Oxford Brookes and Nottingham Trent universities have been dropped as providers of a legal practice course set up by eight City law firms four years ago.
Under new arrangements, three of the firms have contracted the College of Law to run the country's first firm-specific LPCs. The remaining five will continue to run the City LPC through BPP, the only surviving member of the original consortium.
In 2000, the eight City firms contracted with Nottingham Law School (part of Nottingham Trent), the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice (a joint Oxford and Oxford Brookes venture) and the BPP Law School to run the first commercially based LPC. Until then all would-be solicitors had taken a standard LPC.
Phil Knott, the managing director of Nottingham Law School, said: "The City firms wanted a provider in London, and we made a conscious choice not to move. There was no criticism of the quality of the course we offer."
Nottingham takes about 650 LPC students, about 30 per cent of whom are on the City LPC. As the City firms pay students' fees this represents a potential loss of income of about £1.6 million.
Professor Knott said: "We are confident we can replace these students before the contract ends. We have well over 1,000 highly qualified applicants annually."
Julie Brannan, director of Oxilp, was equally confident the institute could replace the students.
The College of Law, excluded from the original consortium, is set to run bespoke courses for Linklaters, Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy. Nigel Savage, chief executive of the college, said: "For the first time, the LPC is being customised to suit the requirements of individual law firms. These courses will be designed within the general framework of the Law Society's regulations to meet the diverse needs of firms of all sizes and other legal organisations."
The original City LPC was criticised by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf of Barnes, as elitist. He said: "For the elite (recruits) to be drawn from a small percentage of the provider colleges is bound to adversely influence the other providers."
Professor Knott said: "The Law Society will need to ensure that all LPC students have access to the same resources and teachers. Students not on the bespoke courses must not be disadvantaged."
The society is expected to make a final decision on approving the new courses in May.