A Neat Solution To The Legal Education And Training Puzzle

At the end of the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) symposium yesterday, I got chatting with Linda Jotham, a senior lecturer at City Law School.

As I groaned about the difficulties facing the LETR panel in coming up with a new system of legal education that keeps everyone happy – we’d just sat through a debate featuring solicitors, barristers, legal executives and academics who could hardly agree on anything – Jotham surprised me.

She told me that the earlier discussion group she’d been part of had come up with a win-win solution (based on an idea mooted by LSE’s Julia Black).

Here it is…

Make qualifying as a lawyer contingent on reaching a certain generic competency (which would be set at level six of the government’s national competency framework).

Bring in a clearly defined new title of “English and Welsh lawyer” – encompassing solicitors, barristers, legal executives and indeed paralegals who have reached level six of the framework.

Allow “English and Welsh lawyers” to reach level six by whatever route they please, be it the traditional LLB/GDL + LPC/BPTC, on the job apprenticeship training via the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX), a combination of both, or some new method that would allow for the growth in online education options.

All the old titles (i.e. solicitor, barristers etc.) and courses (LPC/BPTC etc.) would be preserved, but the market may reduce their relevance.

Drop training contracts and pupillages, replacing them with modules that lawyers must sit according to which areas they want to practise in.

11 Responses to “A Neat Solution To The Legal Education And Training Puzzle”

  1. Caroline Hurst

    I would wholly support the scrapping of individual titles like solicitor, barrister etc. as a Chartered Legal Executive (with an LLB) I continue to be discriminated against because my title is not Solicitor. The issue is not your job title it’s how we’ll your serve your clients. With our increased rights it’s no longer possible to hide behind the title of solicitor. We should all be subject to the same expectations in terms of a level of skill to be reached and upon that level then have the right to call yourself a lawyer. No matter how you get to that point, we are all the same.

    Reply
    • spodcrotch

      Perhaps you should learn to write properly first if you want to be respected:

      “The issue is not your job title it’s how we’ll your serve your clients”

      Nice

      Reply
    • Chris

      I can’t agree with Caroline that solicitors and legal executives (it’s not a formal noun, so however grand you may want it to sound, it doesn’t get capitalized) are all the same. My experience of working with both is that legal executives are indeed very similar to solicitors, but with fewer scruples or professional ethics.

      Reply
    • DC

      Given that you have an LLB Caroline I think there’s at least a chance that the reason you are a legal executive and not a solicitor is that you either tried and failed with the solicitor route or didn’t want to take the risk of doing the extra training etc. The title of solicitor carries a certain cachet with it that is tied to the fact that solicitors have had to prove themselves at various stages in order to gain entry to a profession limited in size. This, in principle at least, correlates with a higher standard of lawyer. The public is entitled to know when they go to a solicitor that that solicitor is of sufficient quality to have jumped the hurdles and demonstrated a level of competence which, as a legal executive, you have not necessarily attained.

      Reply
  2. Ash Ken

    Nice to see the trolls and snobs out today. Rather than slate other people who have commented, why not focus on the article?

    Now putting my flame-retardent cloak on…

    Reply
  3. Paul

    Whatever the route to qualification be it LLB/GDL + LPC/BPTC or CLIEX the issue for clients is the competence of the individual providing a service to the individual client.

    For the last 11 years I have been working as a paralegal, without any formal legal qualification, and have the benefit of entering the law at a late point in my working life without the expectation (due to limited financial resources – donations gratefully accepted) to take any of the current routes to qualification.

    I have seen over the last few years a significant number of people who have undertaken the LPC and are seeking training contracts and have entered the market place with a large amount of student debt (£20-30k is not unheard of) at a time when training contracts are becoming akin to the proverbial hens tooth.

    I have nothing but admiration for anyone who qualifies by whatever route and the current title of solicitor, barrister and legal executive do carry differing levels of kudos in the profession. The roles are different especially that of the barrister, however direct access is changing this to a degree, but it is early days in this respect. I do feel that the distinction between solicitor and legal executive is somewhat more, how can one say, blurred, especially when many legal executive’s then go down the GDL / LPC route, that’s normally after around 4-6 years of working and undertaking the required CLIEX qualifications. This is no easy option.

    I do think that the current avenues to qualification, possibly excluding the bar, do need to be reconsidered if the legal profession is not to exclude people without the financial means to gain a degree then follow the GDL/LPC followed by training contract route.

    My own view, for what it is worth, is for a more CLIEX based route to legal qualification to initially reach a point of general competence (if that is the correct expression) followed, to reflect the reality of day to day practice, by the options for a more vertical element for specific areas of law, call it a certificate if this helps, in say crime, contact, family, land, shipping etc.

    I hope that this debate continues and that greater minds that mine can get the professional bodies (SRA, Law Society, Bar Council and CLIEX) to consider alternative routes to allow people to enter the legal market whilst ensuring that the interest fo client and the Law are protected.

    One final point regarding this earlier post “My experience of working with both is that legal executives are indeed very similar to solicitors, but with fewer scruples or professional ethics.” My own experience of working with, and in, the legal profession (which now stretch’s back some 22 years) is that there is little link between professional status / qualification and scruples or professional ethics this is more down to the individual and their own principles rather than a title however hard won or professionally regulated.

    Reply
  4. jc

    There is a need to increase the efficiency of the BPTC and the year long LPC so that the training, disregarded and disparaged by employers, actually prepares rather than stymies a lawyer about to enter employment. There are issues surrounding the intensity, difficulty, relevance, cost and time taken to complete the course.

    Jotham’s idea skirts the real issues facing legal education and aims to find an easier method to becoming qualified. The qualification is not an end in itself and there is no value in simplifying the route to qualification. The real problem is not the difficulty in getting qualified but the difficulty in obtaining a job upon qualification. Making it easier to become qualified will not resolve this difficulty, instead it will lead to more confused but indignant qualified persons who cannot conceive as to why their qualification has not guaranteed them a job.

    Rather, the education to become qualified must be as stringent and difficult as the job for which it is preparing the student. Greater focus on improving the standard, efficiency, cachet, genuine access and cost of legal professional exams is the correct aim. Not making the final qualification even easier to obtain, at a presumably equally high cost, so that more lawyers can be floating around acting, understandably if not naively, confused as to where their job got to…

    Reply
  5. Kate

    A lot of LPC graduates who haven’t secured a training contract but are working as Paralegals, legal assistants or even high level PA’s are more than competent. It’s a shame that the people who qualify via the traditional route then turn into snobs who forget how tough it was for them to secure a training contract in the first place. Many a time I have seen paralegals doing the work of a solicitor and not being recognised for it accordingly. This needs to stop – it’s near exploitation and of course no they don’t have to do it, and it’s entirely their choice, but they are also told that all experience is good experience. SRA answers and a resolution please!!!!!!

    Maybe the best of course of action will be to stop graduates completing the LPC unless they have secured a Training Contract first. As at the moment the law schools are earning a lot of money from fees of students who will never qualify.

    Reply

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