The qualifying law degree: which gems should we take out?

In his recent Lord Upjohn Lecture, Lord Justice Neuberger took the opportunity to take a pop at the Legal Education and Training Review, questioning the hypothesis that the current training framework is “not fit for purpose”. In common with many in the profession, he thinks that, in fact, lawyers in England and Wales are reasonably well-trained and successful. He worries that the review is too dominated by academia and suggests that a more professionally-focussed second phase will be necessary.

Interestingly, he then goes on to suggest some changes to the qualifying law degree (and by extension the Graduate Diploma in Law) which I agree would improve it, but many would regard as radical, if not downright revolutionary. For example, many academic lawyers would throw up their hands in horror at the prospect of teaching civil procedure. Sully a degree programme with elements of practice? Surely not – we leave that to the vocational stage.

A similar reaction would probably be provoked by his other suggested additions, such as dealing with clients and institutions like prisons and the police force.

I suspect most practising lawyers would agree with many of Lord Neuberger’s suggested additions. The practical difficulty, of course, is that the QLD/GDL is already full to the brim with compulsory knowledge and there is little appetite for taking subjects out. So how do we solve this conundrum?

Here are two suggestions that would help:

1                     Keep the existing compulsory subjects but reduce the content of each. Students can learn about the principles of criminal law without the need of a detailed knowledge of so many crimes.

2                     Break down the barriers between the three stages of training: academic, vocational and practice. Discovering about the practice of litigation alongside the principles of tort law will make for a more meaningful and efficient learning experience.

My second suggestion is already starting to happen. Northumbria University and Nottingham Law School both have innovative LLBs which combine theory and practice. But the best example of combining theory, practical knowledge and practice itself, can be found outside the universities altogether, in the proposed Legal Higher Apprenticeship.

It will be interesting to see, in years to come, which route leads to more effective lawyers.

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