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Bigger than ABSs?

[1]While alternative business structures are gaining all the headlines right now, something perhaps even more fundamental is going on this year: the Legal Education and Training Review [2](LETR). Many know it’s happening, but I suspect few quite understand how radically it could reshape the foundation of becoming a lawyer.

I don’t think I did until last week, when I attended the first of a series of five seminars organised by the Legal Services Board (LSB), this one in association with the Legal Services Institute.

But first a quick reminder – the LETR is being run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards, under close observation from the LSB. Billed as the most fundamental examination of legal education and training since the Ormrod report of 1971, its remit is broad.

It will examine regulated and non-regulated legal services, and all stages of legal education and training. The primary objective is to ensure that England and Wales has a legal education and training system which advances the regulatory objectives contained in the Legal Services Act 2007, and particularly the need to protect and promote the interests of consumers and to ensure an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession.

The UKCLE Research Consortium, led by Professor Julian Webb of Warwick University, is conducting the research [3] underpinning the review, while there is a consultation steering group chaired by Dame Janet Gaymer and Sir Mark Potter. The first significant output will be a literature review, due to be published shortly, while I understand a discussion paper will be forthcoming soon as well. The aim is to produce recommendations to the regulators by the end of the year, although there is some doubt as to whether that date will be met [4].

Anyway, back to last week’s event (which was not, it should be pointed out, organised by the LETR, although several members of it were there). For many of those present – a mix of people from regulation, representation, education and elsewhere – it was a first chance to express a view on the direction in which they think the LETR should (or should not) be going. To that extent I suspect some of what was said was a bit basic – one has to assume that the thinking of those involved in the review is somewhat more advanced.

But I took several significant points from the debate:

For what it’s worth, this is my personal view of the future of education and training: if I had to experience the mind-numbing tedium that was the old Law Society Finals and the hell that was the exam week, then every aspiring lawyer should. Open-book exams on the LPC indeed. Stuff the regulatory objectives and the public interest – I don’t see why everyone shouldn’t suffer like I did.