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Training for tomorrow – SRA outlines outcomes-focused approach to legal education

‘While the current education and training system has served us well, technology, changing consumer demands and the regulatory system itself are shaping the ways in which legal services are delivered. Legal education and training must adapt to reflect these wider changes.’

So says the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in today’s (15 October) ‘Training for Tomorrow’ report, which proposes moving to an outcomes-focused approach to legal education, with less input from the regulators on how to achieve competence and ongoing training.

Billed as the end to the historic ‘one size fits all’ approach to solicitors’ qualification, the report comes in response to the wide-ranging Legal Education Training Review published in June, which looked 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.

In a move that, going forward, may enable solicitors to qualify without a degree, legal practice course or training contract, the report sets out the SRA’s objectives to ‘remove unnecessary barriers to qualification’ and ensure ‘that those who deliver legal services meet our standards with less emphasis on the process by which high quality outcomes are achieved.

‘The starting point for any outcomes-based approach to education and training must be to establish a competence framework which articulates the ‘outcomes’ that are expected from the regulatory framework,’ the report adds.

The SRA says its immediate priority will be to specify the knowledge, skills and attributes required by solicitors in order to be authorised at the point of qualification.

This outcomes-based approach will extend to on-going training, with the SRA now also looking to develop broad-based proposals for overhauling the existing CPD scheme for solicitors.

In a move that will go some way to answering critics’ concerns that opening up the pathways to the legal profession will impact on quality, the SRA’s blueprint sets out proposals for a greater emphasis on assessment, as the regulatory body says: ‘Putting in place a robust competence framework will enable us to pull back from specifying the detail of how solicitors should qualify and to concentrate instead on ensuring there is robust assessment of the required knowledge skills and attributes before qualification. Central to our strategy is an enhanced focus on assessment, therefore.’

However, more controversially, the body will also look to its experience of implementing the highly unpopular Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates as it considers its approach to activity-based authorisation for areas of identified risk.

The SRA will publish a consultation on removing unecessary regulation towards the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014 and a consultation on the new competence framework in mid-2014.