Legal Education and Training Review report: a good basis but many areas to improve

Webb: led research team

There is a good standard of legal education and training in England and Wales – “for the most part” – but quality, accessibility and flexibility need to be enhanced “to ensure the system remains fit for the future”, the Legal Education and Training Review research report has concluded.

The report is in turns more controversial and less controversial than some might have expected: while it suggests work on a licensed paralegal scheme – which would enable paralegal ‘law firms’ to operate with a view to increasing access to justice for matters where a fully qualified practitioner may not be required – it is cool on the idea of common training for solicitors and barristers, and of periodic reaccreditation of practitioners.

However, the report backs more non-graduate routes to qualification as a solicitor and barrister – the only way currently is by qualifying first as a chartered legal executive.

It pulled back from what might have been the most controversial recommendation of all – moving away from the current regime of title-based training and authorisation, and focusing instead on what would be needed to undertake a specific legal task. It said it did endorse activity based regulation “for reasons of potential cost and complexity, particularly within the present system of multiple regulators”.

The 350-page report has been published six months later than originally planned, and its purpose is to give its commissioning regulators – the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards – the evidence to make decisions on their future education and training strategies. It was produced by a team of academics led by Professor Julian Webb of Warwick University.

The authors said their recommendations are aimed at preparing the education and training regime for a more liberalised legal services market.

“It is likely to be a market in which the traditional professions of solicitor and barrister will continue to play a significant role, though perhaps one less central than currently. For some new organisations the workforce structure could comprise a smaller core of qualified individuals surrounded by a set of paralegals, trainees of one kind or another, and support staff.

“New business entities geared to exploit economies of scale may become more important in specific spheres. In the corporate sphere, new technologies, outsourcing, demand for restructured services and other new ways of working will also be transforming the world of practice.”

Core recommendations include moving towards the harmonisation of ‘day one’ outcomes – those standards trainees should meet at the point of qualification – and levels of qualification across the various arms of the legal profession. Training systems should be designed from these outcomes backwards.

The report also proposes a market-led ‘mixed economy’ approach to training. “There should be a presumption that new, flexible approaches should be encouraged and that the burden should be on the regulator, adopting a risk-based approach, to identify why a pathway should not be permitted.”

There is a strong focus on recasting continuing professional development so that practitioners have to “plan, implement, evaluate and reflect annually on their training needs and their learning”.

Other eye-catching recommendations are:

  • Removing the ‘time served’ element of vocational training – such as training contracts – so that a trainee would qualify once they have achieved ‘day one’ outcomes;
  • Developing an apprenticeship route to qualification as a solicitor;
  • A stronger focus on professional ethics throughout education and training;
  • In a bid to improve the quality of solicitors’ education and training in respect of advocacy and wills, removing both from the legal practice course and instead requiring specialist pre or post-qualification training which would be recognised as ‘endorsements’ on the practising certificate;
  • Having a distinct assessment of legal research, writing and critical thinking skills in the law degree and graduate diploma in law;
  • Introducing conduct standards and guidance from regulators on offering internships and work experience so as to “mediate the impact of social capital, personal connections, socio-economic origin, and attendance at a pre-1992 university” in accessing such opportunities;
  • Advocacy training “should pay greater attention” to preparing trainees and practitioners to appear against litigants in person; and
  • Creating a ‘Legal Education Council’ to provide a forum for the coordination of the continuing review of education and training, and serve as a data archive, careers advice shop, ‘legal education laboratory’ and clearing house, for example to advertise work experience.

See the initial responses to the report here: SRA promises “radical review” of qualifying as a solicitor

The full report can be downloaded from the LETR website here.


    Readers Comments

  • Finola Moss says:

    This Review appears to give its commissioners what they paid for- bar education remains sacrosanct, the ABS implementing SRA receives an eclectic mix of flexible legal education, LIP skills, and commercial awareness , and the eradication of training contracts allows newly qualified solicitors rather than trainees to man the ABS call centres, ILEX benefits from the several routes’ recommendation- despite the unemployed thousands who have paid £32,000 in fees believing theirs was the only solicitor route.
    There is no detail on the actual substance of what law is essential, and how it be taught, assessed and standardised, particularly for all the disparate legal services providers. The retention of titles rather than replacing them with specific legal tasks, has ensured the continuance of the SRA and Law Society, and the solicitor profession, essential for public confidence and fee rates, although rather inappropriate if the education is in effectively specific to market demand.

    Worryingly It appears unclear who was responsible for the quality assurance of law degrees with the Law Society blaming the lack of graduates suitability for the profession on education providers as they , ‘are leaving quality assurance to the profession’, yet the only external quality assurance was appears to be the Law Society and Bar Association, who prescribed what should be taught in a qualifying law degrees, but did not appear to check the quality of how these subjects were taught, or assessed.

    The need for the distinct assessment of legal reasoning, writing and critical skills in both degree and GDL appears both unnecessarily excessive, and educationally flawed, as such skills cannot be meaningfully taught or assessed in isolation from the substantive law they address.

    The report appears to recommend that legal education is determined by the market place, yet it is the quality and effectiveness of the product created by legal education that will determine demand and that products success- knowledge of the law and the ability to enforce it.

    It appears insular self-interest and commercial awareness have infected legal education, and the legal profession, and until this infection is cured the enforcement and indeed knowledge of the law of our land will remain in jeopardy.

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