The Legal Education and Training Review needs to be radical and could permanently separate authorisation to practise from professional titles, the chairman of the Legal Services Board (LSB) said this week.
Speaking at the first of a series of five seminars on how education and training need to adapt, David Edmonds said that reform was “long overdue” and that he would be “extremely disappointed” if at the end of the review “we end up with changes on the margins”.
The review is being conducted jointly by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards and aims to conclude at the end of this year.
The seminar was held at the College of Law in London in conjunction with the Legal Services Institute and director Professor Stephen Mayson said he too struggled to see that any review of education and training “could proceed on the basis of incremental adjustment”.
The seminar focused on the removal of barriers and Mr Edmonds questioned whether, in a world of independent regulation, it is still necessary for the regulator to take the qualifications set by the branches of the profession as the only minimum qualifications for individuals authorised to carry out reserved legal activities.
He argued: “The link between authorisation and professional title does not need to be exclusive. I suggest that the decision to review the regulatory requirements for education and training recognises the potential for a permanent separation between the two.
“Reserved legal activities will, of course, continue to be reserved to those qualified to provide them, but the standards of entry do not have to be restricted to the existing professional framework. Any activity, such as conveyancing or will-writing, for example, might be authorised via an activity focused r
oute. Further expansion of activity might be based upon qualifications, experience and CPD, for example.”
Mr Edmonds emphasised that professional bodies will “always” play a leading role in setting and increasing standards, but he said there should be outcomes-based criteria by which regulators would “assess and approve different models – and not all UK manufactured – with the implicit possibility of multiple routes to authorisation”. The outcomes to be achieved should focus on the needs of the range of consumers.
The advent of alternative business structures meant that the education and training framework needs to prepare the legal workforce for the changed demands of the new climate, he continued. “Meanwhile, as lawyers begin to work in more diverse entities, a premium will be placed on other skill-sets.”
Professor Mayson told the seminar that while the current system is not totally unfit for purpose, “it is not fit enough for its new purpose”.
He continued: “This is a purpose that must apply not just to lawyers but that needs to encompass support staff and multi-disciplinary practice. It is not just about legal expertise but must include client service, management and ownership. It is not just about practitioners, but needs to extend to managers, owners and investors.
“It is not just about England & Wales, but must address the global influence of English law and the English courts, as well as the needs of UK plc. And it is not just about individuals, because we must also think about regulating and training within entities.”
Professor Mayson agreed with the notion that education and training is not about title. “It’s about what functions we want people to perform and what they need to be competent to do.”
He offered five propositions which he believed the review needed to answer: there is too much prescription in the qualifying law degree; the legal practice course (LPC) is not preparing people adequately for practice, and the burdens of cost and expectation are not fairly placed; the training contract is a barrier to entry and qualification; clients are no longer willing to bear the cost of post-LPC training; and CPD is “discredited and ineffective in assuring continuing competence”.