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Three years in the making: Legal education and training review unveiled

A report touted as the most comprehensive review of legal education in the UK since the Omrod report of 1971 has finally been published today (25 June), three years after it was first announced.

The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR), which was undertaken on behalf of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), ILEX Professional Standards and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), looks at the educational requirements for entering the profession, continuing education including the obligations of law school providers and the impact of the Legal Services Act.

The root and branch report contains 26 recommendations, including more co-ordination between the different strands of the profession, a more commercial and flexible approach to training by legal education providers, and the development of apprenticeships and new forms of workplace training that could allow non-graduates to become solicitors or barristers. It also recommends the establishment of a Legal Education Council to co-ordinate and advise regulators on legal education and training.

On Twitter today Peter Crisp, chief executive of BPP Law School said: ‘The new Legal Education Council has a rather wide and confused brief. A careers service plus quasi-adjudicator on transfer regs?’

Critically for education providers, the report finds that the Legal Practice Course should focus more on commercial awareness and prepare lawyers better for alternative and specialist practices, while the Bar Professional Training Course should place more emphasis on alternative dispute resolution, including mediation.

The report also finds that increased co-ordination between the professions is needed to ensure better consistency and standardisation and greater clarity about horizontal transfer between professional routes. While the professions need not adopt common learning processes, their different approaches ‘must have at least equivalent effect,’ the report says. Longer term, there should be a national framework to simplify the transfer between the professions and a framework to support the progression from paralegal to authorised practitioner.

The report concludes: ‘The current system of LSET does not consistently ensure that desired levels of competence are reliably and demonstrably achieved. The key weaknesses in the system are: its reliance on relatively shallow, vague or narrow conceptions of competence; insufficient clarity and consistency around standards at points of entry; the absence, in general, of robust mechanisms for standardising assessment and a lack of coherence as regards transfer and exemption between regulated titles.’

In response to the publication, chair of the SRA board Charles Plant said: ‘The high quality of legal services protects individuals, enables effective business transactions and secures global competitive advantage for the UK. Our education and training system underpins that high quality, but the environment in which legal services are delivered has changed and is changing.

‘The report indicates areas that need addressing if we are to ensure that legal education and training remain fit for purpose in the radically altering world of legal services, nationally and internationally. The SRA needs to ensure that it is setting the right standards for modern legal practice for solicitors and others delivering legal services, that it is using effective mechanisms to assure the standards which it sets, and that it is not imposing unnecessary restrictions.

‘The LETR research report will be invaluable in our programme of reforms. Using that review and our own findings, we will be discussing key priorities with our stakeholders over the next few months, and will publish a policy statement later in the year. We will take account of the needs of consumers across the legal sector and the wider public interest and ensure that our work is properly co-ordinated with that of the other regulators.’

The Bar Council this morning welcomed the LETR review, with Chair Maura McGowan QC (pictured) noting that the ‘lengthy review’ was one the bar had been ‘expecting and anticipating for some time.’ While McGowan said the report will take time to digest and the Bar Council will respond later in full, she commented: ‘A number of the proposals relating to training for the Bar appear to be sensible and rational developments of legal training, in keeping with the emerging legal services infrastructure.’

Responses to the report:

Law Society chief executive Des Hudson:

‘The report contains a substantial number of detailed proposals, most of which are commendable and deserve the support of the profession. However a number of strategic themes deserve further debate and consideration.

‘Educational establishments which are privileged to deliver qualifying law degrees are leaving quality assurance to the profession. The feedback we are getting from law firms shows that graduates are lacking the skills expected of them when they commence employment.’

Professor Nigel Savage, President and Provost, The University of Law:

‘The way we buy and sell legal services is undergoing radical change and it’s important therefore that those emerging from law schools are properly prepared to respond to the challenges. The major issue now is what the regulators will do with the report and how, if at all, they use it to deliver their own strategic plans.

‘The UK legal services industry is one of our greatest strengths as an economy with the UK at the heart of an increasingly global legal system. Meanwhile, the growth in popularity of Alternative Business Structures means that consumers are now buying legal services in different ways. Therefore it is vital that legal training supports this growth and is relevant to these changing needs.

‘This long awaited review contains relatively few surprises. At The University of Law we are already delivering most of the recommendations particularly in terms of professional ethics and flexible training routes. Also, our industry links and investment in employability support gives our students an opportunity to learn about broader business and client servicing skills that will be ever more important in the future.

‘What we desperately need now is a coherent forward-thinking strategy to build on the competitive advantage of the domestic and global legal services market – there is too much negative talk in the sector at the moment despite the UK growing as international legal hub.’