A training regime whose only specification is what a newly-qualified lawyer should be able to offer on day one is the kind of deregulation the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) should be considering, according to the chief executive of the Legal Services Board (LSB).
Meanwhile, Chris Kenny urged the speeding up of alternative business structure (ABS) approvals and predicted the law would have to be reformed “sooner or later” to streamline the application process now that fear of ABS applicants had subsided.
He praised traditional law firms for “remarkable innovation” to meet the challenge of ABS new entrants.
Mr Kenny suggested an outcomes-focused approach to training at a breakfast roundtable on the future of legal services held by the Office of Fair Trading following its recent report on the impact of the Legal Services Act.
The report said pupillage training might be limiting access to the market, and Mr Kenny argued that the question should be asked as to whether regulators should be involved in matters of pupillage and training contracts at all.
“As an alternative, one could specify ‘day one’ outcomes when a lawyer starts serving the public, but leave it to the market to decide on the best way to bring people to ensure that those competence levels were in place. I hope that is the kind of debate which the LETR will trigger.”
The LETR was meant to have reported by the end of 2012, but will now not do so before May, it was announced recently.
He described delays in the ABS approval process as “growing pains” and blamed the Legal Services Act’s cautious approach, saying: “They are also a consequence of the over-specification in the 2007 Act – we are now at a stage where we no longer need to regard ABS applicants as very dangerous genetically modified organisms to be handled by scientists in white coats at Porton Down only after five years of clearance by an ethical committee. The legislation will need to catch up with that reality sooner rather than later.”
Mr Kenny welcomed the recent spurt of ABS approvals by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, while highlighting as “good practice to reflect on” the simplicity of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers’ ABS application form and clear online guidance.
Speeding up the approvals process was “essential, not only to ensure that new entrants can arrive in the market, but also to maintain the current remarkable innovation driven by some existing non-ABS firms responding to the challenge of new entrants.
“This has been quite as important as that which the new entrants have brought themselves – and indeed, that innovation was the point of the reform, rather than it being simply a numbers game,” he said.