The final discussion paper produced by the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) “lacks rigour and is therefore unhelpful” in concluding that the current system is unfit for purpose, the Law Society has said.
In its response to the paper, which was produced at the end of August, the society maintained that the existing route to qualification “will continue to be a popular and effective way of enabling people to qualify as solicitors within a relatively condensed period of time”. Further, “the current system produces high-calibre legal professionals who are respected world-wide”.
But it strongly supported “alternative routes which can achieve the same standard for qualification” delivered through “a modularised and work-based learning approach”. It also argued for a “radically revised approach to continuing professional development” and for recognition of the training needs of compliance officers for legal practice and finance and administration (COLPs and COFAs).
That the LETR had not addressed equality, diversity and social mobility in the final paper was “disappointing”, said the society, as was the failure to examine the current system against the “professional and regulatory context”.
The response continued: “New entrants are constantly coming into the market and clients (both individual and corporate) are becoming ever more demanding and better informed. What can be expected, however, is that the newly qualified lawyer will have gained the grounding in legal knowledge and practical skills needed to develop into a sound practitioner and to adapt to the changes that will inevitably punctuate his or her career.
“Supervision, learning from practice and further training are all required and these are all delivered by the present system, so that the public are not placed at risk.”
By concluding that the current system is unfit for its purpose “without due consideration of the context”, the LETR’s discussion paper “lacks rigour and is therefore unhelpful”, the society complained.
In response to a call for views on “alternative formulations of principles or outcomes” for the qualifying law degree/graduate diploma in law, the society said it was not aware of “clear evidence that the current system is broken”, although it supported the addition of legal ethics and company law, or the law of organisations.
The society complained about what it called “patchy teaching” by some legal practice course (LPC) providers, as well as “a lack of regulatory oversight of the quality of such teaching by the Solicitors Regulation Authority”. It offered its support for combining the LPC with an element of optional work-based learning, which it argued “could provide invaluable experience as well as an early introduction to the workplace and the roles the students are working towards. This would also enable new trainees to start from a more advanced position”.
The society also called for the Bar professional training course to be adjusted to include such subjects as civil and criminal procedure, client care and initial interviewing skills, as preparation for extended rights for barristers to conduct litigation and the extension of direct access. “If they are not to be included, then they must be covered by alternative means,” it insisted.
Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: “Alternative routes of entry into the legal profession are essential in order to enable new entrants to gain qualification through a modularised and work-based learning approach, since the costs of education and training through graduate routes continue to rise.
“It is disappointing that the LETR team decided not to address equality, diversity and social mobility in this final discussion paper. These issues are central to any discussion around routes into the profession, and to any serious consideration of how to make legal education and training more accessible.”