The College of Law’s Legal Services Policy Institute (LSPI) is calling for the training contract for solicitors to be abolished and for all providers of vocational legal training to be subject to common standards of accreditation.
In discussion papers published today, the LSPI proposes moving the point of qualification for solicitors to successful completion of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and argues that the Legal Services Board should set minimum standards for accrediting learning programmes leading to professional qualifications in reserved legal activities.
In the first of these papers, titled ‘Training for the Future’, Chief Executive of The College of Law, Nigel Savage and LSPI director, Stephen Mayson contend that scrapping the two-year training contract would help to widen access to the profession by removing a “significant bottleneck in the qualification process".
“The fact that successful completion of the LPC does not guarantee the professional title is a disincentive to students making a significant investment of their own resources. Removal of the bottleneck of the availability of training contracts would go some way to counteract this. Employment would still not be guaranteed, but the availability of the professional title is likely to mean that a wider range of students would be attracted."
The Institute argues that the LPC’s content should reflect the fact that most lawyers, particularly in the early years of practice, carry out transactional work, rather than activities reserved by law to solicitors, such as probate, litigation or commercial conveyancing.
It proposes that solicitors wishing to carry out any reserved activity should, after qualification, obtain an endorsement to their practising certificate through successful completion of supervised practice in that field. This would, argues the discussion paper, raise competency levels in these areas and enhance the service to clients.
“Standards of competence would be raised in the reserved activities, those wishing to undertake them would be more thoroughly trained, and the risk of superficial treatment in a course whose prime focus lay elsewhere would be removed.
“For the majority of lawyers, who will undertake primarily transactional work, no further qualification is required if the appropriate elective topics have been taken within the LPC. For this, and many other types of work, LPC graduates are now credible. One measure of this is the fact that most firms charge for the time of their LPC graduates as soon as they join the firm."
In the second discussion paper, titled ‘The Accreditation of Learning Programmes Leading to Professional Legal Qualifications’, the LSPI urges the Legal Services Board (LSB) to take decisive action to ensure the quality of training in reserved legal activities.
The LSB should, it argues, compel approved regulators, who authorise their members to undertake the same reserved legal activity, to cooperate in setting common minimum standards of competence to be achieved through learning programmes leading to qualification in that area of work.
It should also set minimum standards for regulators to use when accrediting learning programmes, provide guidance on good practice in conducting accreditation site visits as well as guidance on good design of learning programmes.
This joined-up approach will, the discussion paper suggests, reduce the burden on legal education providers by removing the need for multiple accreditation with different regulators for the same teaching programmes. More importantly it will ensure quality in learning standards.
Nigel Savage said: “Rigorous accreditation ensures a level playing field between the large number of providers, mostly higher education institutions, now active in the field.
It is a safeguard against institutions seeking unfair competitive advantage by compromising on quality or standards to reduce costs. Competition on price is healthy, but it must not be at the expense of the standards required to secure the Legal Services Act’s regulatory objectives and professional principles."
The LSPI was established by The College of Law in 2006 as part of its charitable foundation. Its principal objectives include seeking a more efficient and competitive marketplace for legal services, contributing to policy formation and encouraging better-informed planning in legal services.