• Legal Think Tank Calls for Major Shake Up of Legal Education following Announcement of Review by Regulators

    22 November 2010

    The Legal Services Institute (LSI) has today published a paper calling for radical changes to legal education and the training of solicitors. In the paper, titled ‘The Education and Training of Solicitors:

    Time for Change’ the LSI calls for regulation of the Qualifying Law Degree, to ensure that it better prepares students for the vocational stages of legal training, as well as abolition of the training contract, making the Legal Practice Course (LPC) the gateway to the profession.

    It also urges the Legal Services Board (LSB) to take decisive action to ensure the quality of training in reserved legal activities by compelling regulators to cooperate in setting common minimum standards of competence to be achieved through learning programmes.

    Publication of the LSI’s paper coincides with the announcement of a joint review of legal services education and training in the regulated legal sector by the three largest legal regulators, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards (IPS).

    Professor Stephen Mayson, director of the LSI, 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.

    “If the expanded and diverse provision of legal services, envisaged by the Legal Services Act 2007, is to be effective in providing clients with high quality and affordable services, the need for change that we identify must be acted on. We hope that that our discussion paper will inform the review just announced by the SRA, BSB and IPS.”

    The LSI is a policy think tank funded by The College of Law as part of its charitable foundation. In today’s paper it argues that the pressures shaping the content of the Qualifying Law Degree mean that students are not always well prepared for the demands of the intensively taught vocational stage.

    It states: “Preparation of students for the demands of the LPC should be improved….there is considerable scope for the main LPC providers to indicate, within the modular degree structures, which are now common, the pathways which would best prepare students for the LPC.”

    The paper calls for recognition of the fact that, due to universities’ emphasis on research, their law lecturers often have little or no experience of professional practice. It highlights changes to the law degree, which mean that only a minority of law graduates now enter the practising professions, and calls for a new type of degree specifically for those intending to practise.

    Looking at the vocational stage of training the LSI argues that the point of qualification as a solicitor should be moved to completion of the LPC and the training contract abolished. It proposes that the entitlement to carry out reserved legal activities such as probate, litigation or commercial conveyancing, currently open to solicitors, should in future be subject to separate authorisation after initial qualification.

    These changes would, it suggests:

    • Better reflect the realities of practice, by recognising that not all solicitors carry out reserved legal activities, and that, for many firms, the core of their business is transactional law
    • Raise standards of competence in the reserved activities by ensuring that those wishing to undertake them are more thoroughly trained
    • Remove the perceived bottleneck of training contracts, so helping to widen access to the profession.

    On the issue of regulation the LSI urges the LSB to 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.

    “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.”

    A 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.

    Chief Executive of The College of Law, Nigel Savage said: “One of the reasons why the College founded the Institute was to promote debate and new ideas on legal education and the Institute has been actively engaging with all stakeholders in the sector, including providers, to promote such debate. We at the College welcome the review by the SRA, BSB and IPS - no part of legal education should be left out.

    “Hopefully it will look at the workforce needs of the sector not just the symptoms of what is wrong. For example there is a lot of talk about aptitudes tests before the LPC and BPTC. 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? The real growth is the paralegal market - at the College we are focusing on recreating the old “five year” route in a contemporary work based context with flexible points of entry and exit.”

    “I also hope that the review will encompass the global context as well as the domestic conditions. We cannot insulate the English education and training market from the global market as much as some within the regulatory and membership bodies would like us to do. Students and major employers have a choice as to where they deliver services and what jurisdictions they become qualified under. If we ignore that then we lose competitiveness.”

    The <404>LSI’s paper ‘The Education and Training of Solicitors: Time for Change’<404> is available to <404>download now<404>.

    Further information

    Contact Lucy Wray, Press Officer, The College of Law on 01483 216072 (lucy.wray@lawcol.co.uk).