UK legal education system given unlikely boost by Obama

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By Alex Aldridge on

The messy postgraduate route to qualifying as a lawyer in England and Wales comes in for plenty of flack — with the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) widely seen as hurried, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) criticised for not properly equipping students for practice, and the training contract lampooned as an unsatisfactory half-way house that delays qualification.

Indeed, many, like academic lawyer Philippe Sands QC, regard the British system as inferior to its neater US counterpart, which sees law studied as a three-year postgraduate course, after which lawyers sit a Bar exam and then are immediately eligible to practise.

But it seems that US President (and law graduate) Barack Obama rather likes the way that we train our lawyers…

On Friday, speaking at Binghamton University in New York, Obama urged US law schools to cut their courses from three years to two. The New York Times reports:

The former Harvard law man proceeded to outline a system of legal education remarkably similar to the one in place on these shores, with his suggestion of a third year spent in a law firm closely resembling the principle of the training contract or pupillage.

Obama’s words come at a time of crisis for US legal education, where high tuition fees — typically around £32,00 (£50,000) a year — have coupled with a lack of graduate law jobs to breed anger among students.

Not that the US is likely to be changing its system any time soon, with US legal blog Above the Law — which is strongly in favour of cutting law school duration — doubting that the American Bar Association (ABA) will be swayed by Obama.

Still, the Leader of the Free World’s words are a nice little boost for this country’s recently-concluded Legal Education and Training Review (LETR), which in June elected to make only mild adjustments to the UK system of legal education.