Like opening a present on Christmas Eve, receiving a copy of the Executive Summary of the long awaited Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) ahead of publication (and under embargo) at first gave me a feeling of mischievous anticipation. Sadly, after the excitement had passed I was left bored, unsatisfied and disappointed. Then again, I should have known better. By the time this is printed, you will probably be tired of the inevitable analysis, commentary and criticism, but bear with me.
You may already know that the LETR could have been published back in December last year, but according to reports, the professional regulators demanded a report that was three times bigger. Christmas then had to be moved, first to January and then until May. Still not enough, now, more than six months since the report was initially prepared and some two years since the project started, we finally have the results of the first sector-wide review of legal services since the Ormrod Report of 1971.
The latest delay was apparently excused by a ‘source’ because, “what academics prepare and what non-academics actually want, like and understand can be distinctly different”. Well, that’s what happens when a profession relies on academics to inform what is best for it.
The LETR could not come at a better or more crucial time. The legal profession is in a state of flux and is already undergoing unprecedented change. The effect of the Legal Services Act is being felt across all strands of the profession, as alternative business structures have shifted from being a quirky curiosity to a real threat to the traditional law firm. Alongside this, and a deep and prolonged recession which has seen even some big names collapse under financial pressure, there remains a curious passion for a legal career among school leavers. Even the staggering rise in education costs (easily £35,000 in fees alone) has not put off the ignorant youth who believe they have what it takes to make it in this business – and I say this with love (and some experience). Just because the odds are against you, there is often a passion, inner strength and self-belief that pushes you on. And in a society where we are striving for ‘accessibility’, it is wrong for us to deny anyone the opportunity.
This is where the LETR comes in. Or at least, where it should. The demands of the profession have changed alongside the demands of the consumer. The legal education system has changed very little. The wholesale review expected from the LETR has in reality offered only a few tweaks to a system which has changed little in the past 50 years, subject to organic evolution and modification along the way, such as the ‘City LPC’ and firm specific focus.
There is some good news. For example, it is notable, and encouraging, that CILEx have been heavily involved in the review, alongside regulators for the solicitors’ profession and the Bar. There are some sensible recommendations as to how each strand of the profession should and could collaborate and work together. How this is effected in practice is yet to be agreed.
It’s also pleasing to hear that a period of ‘supervised workplace training’ is recommended and that issues of consistency, quality and experience are to be addressed. Further consistency between the formal education and workplace learning is also ‘encouraged’. What is up for discussion is the length of any supervised practice, meaning the traditional training contract and pupillage may be retained in their current forms or amended to allow additional opportunities for qualification. The reduction of ‘unnecessary restrictions’ on training organisations seems to counter the suggestions already made supporting quality and consistency however.
I’m surprised about the recommendation that advocacy training should maintain such a focus and further, that special attention should be given to appearing against and dealing with the expected and already growing number of litigants in person. Many lawyers in this new legal world may never step foot in a courtroom or be involved in a litigious matter. However, it is a skill which all lawyers are expected to possess. Will it be time well spent, maybe not. But it will certainly improve your position in domestic disputes and for that reason, I encourage it!
There is much more debate to come and this is only a very quick taster. Will the skies fall in? No. But I hope that the recommendations can be seen as a starting place and professional training, like the profession itself, will continue to evolve from within, whatever the academics might tell us.
This article first appeared in the Solicitors Journal on 27 June 2013 and is reproduced with kind permission.