The Lord Chief Justice has signalled concerns about the impending reform to educating law students, saying that a “very broadly based legal education” and law schools “as the centres of excellence” must not be diluted.
Lord Thomas said the start of a legal career “must be at law school”.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s ‘Training for Tomorrow’ blueprint removes the requirement that would-be solicitors have a degree, pass the legal practice course and complete a training contract, and introduces greater flexibility in the path to qualification.
Lord Thomas was giving the Jill Poole Memorial Lecture at Aston University in March – the text of which has only just been published – on the topic of keeping commercial law up-to-date.
It was vital, he said, that judges were the forefront of change, and this “must begin at law school”.
He explained: “It requires that law students be given the best possible legal education so that they enter the profession with a sound grounding in the law and its practical application, as well as the ethical responsibilities of lawyers…
“Teaching excellence is something that we all have a stake in seeing maintained and improved. And at a time when the professions are, once again, reviewing the approach to be taken to legal education and training, it is absolutely essential that nothing is done to dilute the quality of a very broadly based legal education and law schools as the centres of excellence, not mere training grounds for the profession.
“Quality should be increased both in terms of teaching of law as an academic subject and as a practical subject.”
To compete on the world stage, law students have to be “among the best educated in the world with a broad understanding of law and its place in our society”, Lord Thomas said.
For commercial lawyers, this meant a grounding in the principles that underpin the law and an understanding of the modern commercial practices in which they must be applied.
“I would hope that one way in which new lawyers can gain such early exposure is through the development of greater and closer links between universities, law firms and commercial businesses,” he said.