The solicitors’ training contract should be abolished and frontline regulators compelled to co-operate on standards of training for reserved activities, a legal think tank argues in a report published this week.
It calls for a law degree tailored to the needs of the legal practice course (LPC), which will become the ‘gateway’ qualification for solicitors. The entitlement to carry out reserved legal activities such as probate, litigation or commercial conveyancing should be subject to separate authorisation after initial qualification, it says.
The renewed call for radical change by the Legal Services Institute, an independent body funded by the College of Law, comes amid growing concern that too many law graduates are seeking to enter the profession and that the present system is inadequate to equip new entrants for the demands of legal practice.
Professor Stephen Mayson, the LSI’s director, said: “The time is right for reform of legal education for solicitors. It is two decades since the LPC replaced the solicitors’ final examination, and much has changed in that time, in both the market for legal services and in the regulatory framework.”
The LSI report is the latest in a flurry of reviews and proposals for change. Its launch is timed to coincide with the setting up of a joint review of education and training by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards. Professor Mayson said: “We hope that that our discussion paper will inform the review.”
Also, last week the LSB’s chairman, David Edmonds, floated the idea of stripping back vocational training and backed education delivery methods “that more closely align teaching to the demands of legal practice”.
Mr Edmonds also questioned the need for aptitude testing – a notion floated by the Law Society in September – because, he suggested, a qualifying degree should provide that aptitude. Introducing the LSI report, the College of Law’s chief executive, Nigel Savage, echoed the view: “My question would be; if students have completed three years of a degree, soon to be at the cost of £9,000 per annum, why should they need aptitude tests?”
In its 50-page report, the LSI argues that a piecemeal approach to change in legal education would not work. It adds: “Separating the entitlement to practise [reserved] activities from the general qualification of solicitor will allow proper attention to be paid to competence in each activity.” Also, change is necessary because, due to universities prioritising research, “most university law teachers have little or no experience of professional practice”.
The institute highlights what it describes as the “risk of over-regulation, as each front-line regulator develops different training requirements for the same regulated activity”. The LSB must ensure that common standards are adopted by regulators when authorising their members to undertake the same reserved activity, so that they are “working to common levels of competence in which the public may have confidence”.