Latest reform package from Bar Standards Board seems long on jargon and short on specifics
Bar regulators have fired the latest shot in a seemingly endless debate over modernising legal education and training — the only problem is that it is almost impossible to work out what they are actually proposing.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) yesterday launched a consultation in which it encourages lawyers “to actively engage in a new and ambitious programme of reform that will, over the next three years, reshape legal education and training for future generations of barristers”.
With that sort of hype, one expects the programme — creatively entitled “Future bar training” — to be groundbreaking and cutting edge, not least as the BSB itself claims it will set out “a string of high level aims”.
However, there is a conspicuous lack of detail. Instead the BSB produces some delicacies straight out of the motherhood and apple pie shop, mixed with those that make little sense at all.
The latest salvo follows publication in June 2013 of the legal education and training review, a long-winded and rambling report commissioned by the regulators of the solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives. According to the BSB, the aims of any reformed education and training regime at the bar will include:
“Focusing training regulation on what is demonstrably required for professional practice;”
“Ensuring that the regulatory structure does not stand in the way of candidates for the bar from the fullest range of backgrounds;”
“Aligning the regulation of education and training with our wider targeted and proportionate approach;”
“Maintaining standards for authorisation to practise as a barrister in a changing market.”
Some might suggest that the bar’s regulator should be ensuring that its training regime already ticked those boxes. Nonetheless, the BSB persists with more from the Management-speak 101 course. “Future bar training consists of several work streams,” it says, highlighting:
“Clearly defining the benchmark that describes the knowledge and skills that all newly-qualified barristers should possess on their first day in practice;
“Making our rules covering education and training less prescriptive and ensuring that they are proportionate, transparent, and address the main risks;
“Establishing a more flexible approach to continuing professional development;
“Reviewing how the BSB manages and shares data to support its regulatory objectives in education and training;
“Improving access routes to the profession by reviewing the vocational stage of training for the bar and pupillage;
“The reassessment of regulation of the academic stage of qualification.”
Fine. But again, if the regulator isn’t already performing those tasks, just what is it doing?
BSB director of education and training, Simon Thornton-Wood, described the initiative as being “a real opportunity for the bar, the public, and the regulator to work together to shape a new era of legal education and training.” He added:
“We are committed to ensuring the bar remains in a strong position to deliver to its fullest potential in a constantly evolving legal services landscape. We will only meet these needs by working closely with the bar, consumers and all the users of its services.”
All of which means that for the next three years, the BSB will blitz barristers with a range of “workshops and open consultations on different work streams, all of which will be published and publicised from the BSB’s website”.
As Thornton-Wood continued:
“We will provide plenty of opportunities for the bar to contribute to the process as we try to articulate better the knowledge and skills required of a barrister for the future and redefine our approach to training. We will be looking closely at the current qualifying degree requirements, considering the future of the Bar Professional Training Course, seeking to improve the experience of pupillage for all involved, and introducing a new approach to CPD.”