The solicitors’ profession is just embarking on a consultation which could result in a revolution in the way that solicitors are trained and authorised. The SRA’s response to the Legal Education and Training Review – Training for Tomorrow – is only 20 pages long, but the proposals which are outlined affect each stage of training from the qualifying law degree to continuing professional development and all steps in between.
Consultation will continue throughout 2014, so the final shape of the new framework will not be known for another year or more, but a possible outcome is a system of testing competency standards at the point of qualification, without prescribing any specific pathway/s to achieving those standards.
The SRA describe their proposals as “radical” and they are not wrong. The old sequential pattern of academic-vocational-practical is on the way out, to be replaced with a blank sheet of paper, on which individuals, firms, ABSs, universities, professional law schools can write their own training plan.
I suspect many firms will fill their blank sheet of paper with the old familiar training plan and recruit law graduates with qualifications indistinguishable from those currently mandated. But I hope that the profession and education and training providers will be more imaginative and seize the opportunity to devise a variety of brand new training pathways.
For example: do we really need the Legal Practice Course? The LPC has served us well but was devised at a time when the profession was much more homogeneous that it is today. Is it appropriate to have a single course which tries to prepare trainees for today’s huge variety of legal work, practices and business structures?
The LPC also suffers from a serious structural limitation. It tries to teach students vocational skills in a simulated environment. Many of these skills could be better taught in the workplace. The SRA review opens up the possibility of breaking down the barriers between the academic, vocational and practical stages of training, bringing knowledge acquisition closer to the office and the courtroom, and practical skills closer to the classroom and lecture hall.
Such a radical approach would require a new mind set from employers, most of whom currently demand that trainees start work ready to earn fees, and from education providers, who would need to become far more flexible. But it could produce entrants to the profession who are equipped with deeper legal knowledge and a wider range of work-related skills, ready to serve the public confidently from the moment of qualification.