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How one law school is planning to fill junior lawyers’ learning gaps

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By Sophie Dillon on

Ahead of his appearance at LegalEdCon this month, Director of Professional Development at ULaw, Jim Moser, explains the missing links in legal training and how the education giant is tackling them

“I’ve been in law for a very long time.” Jim Moser, The University of Law’s Director of Professional Development reveals. Having worked as a solicitor for a number of years in private practice, where he specialised in commercial property, Moser felt the pull towards legal education. “I’ve always wanted to teach. From quite a young age I was tutoring part-time alongside being a lawyer.”

The collapse of sprawling professional services giant Arthur Andersen following the Enron scandal (of which Moser’s then firm, Dundas & Wilson, was a part thanks to an earlier merger) set the scene for the move. “The challenge for my firm at the time, after successfully exiting its partnership with Andersen, became filling the legal education lacuna left by the collapse” he explains. The opportunity to take the learning & development helm “meant I had to give up my future career as a transactional lawyer,” he says. “But this was what I was truly passionate about.”

Director of Professional Development at The University of Law, Jim Moser

After being promoted to Director of Professional Development at the firm, later acquired by CMS, Moser found himself in the perfect position to build his expertise in legal education. “I ran the learning throughout the business for everyone, lawyers and non-lawyers,” he says describing his then role. Now, sitting as Director of Professional Development at ULaw, Moser, who will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2024 on 16 May, leans on his experiences in the legal learning space to analyse what is really missing in professional development.

 Find out more about the Junior Lawyer Development Programme at The University of Law

“One challenge when it comes to teaching in law firms is ensuring that there is sufficient teaching expertise in the business,” he says. Moser, who undertook a formal teaching qualification tells us that, “teaching is about the audience and their learning needs – not about the teacher.” He emphasises the importance of tailoring legal education to both the needs of the business, as well as the needs of the learners themselves; “far too often this doesn’t happen in legal education.

“I fundamentally believe that one of the things that learning in law suffers from is that it’s not strategic enough,” says Moser, who’s passion for high standards of learning shines through. “If you’re going to run a learning function inside any business, it should match or meet the strategic business plan of that business,” he continues. “Hence the importance of tailoring professional development and training with each firm’s own needs and expectations in mind.”

Further gaps in legal education and training arise when approached as a cost to the business rather than as an investment in the ultimate quality of its outputs, Moser tells Legal Cheek Careers. “Learning is a valuable resource to add to wealth generation and profitability of any law firm, and a reluctance to spend can weaken the competency of lawyers.”

These gaps are exacerbated by changes to the exam system. “Whilst I may agree with the intentions behind the new route to qualification,” he says, referencing the Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQE), “it has made the situation of poor learning worse”.

 Find out more about the Junior Lawyer Development Programme at The University of Law

He uses the example of medicine students to illustrate. He explains that in this discipline, “students will start working in some capacity in hospitals only two years into their course, whereas most law students will get nowhere near a client until after they’ve finished their academic LLB and passed qualifying exams.” So, it’s only when future lawyers get to their training contract/QWE that they see the practical side of working in law. “Until this point, they have never dealt with the culture and atmosphere in a legal business, never worked with clients, or dealt with delivering the outcomes that clients expect,” he says.

The training that future lawyers received by undertaking the Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by the Professional Skills Course (PSC) was a more robust system for setting lawyers up for practice, Moser argues. “If firms have an expectation that somebody coming into the business as a newly qualified lawyer (NQ) following the SQE will have the same knowledge that they had previously by doing the LPC,” he emphasises, “they may be disappointed.” We asked for his thoughts on the key differences between the two systems to qualification. He tells us that the SQE route leaves a lot of responsibility and discretion to the firm in building practice skills through Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). “It assumes that law firms will undertake a robust approach, in a strong learning culture,” he argues. “Too many businesses may not have the resources or experience to do this.”

The University of Law will be exhibiting at LegalEdCon 2024 on 16 May

But why, we ask Moser, is it so important to fill these gaps? “At the end of the day, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) represents the public; they protect the interest of the public in the provision of legal services,” he replies. “If people do not know what they’re doing, the provision of legal services isn’t going to be great.” From the perspective of a law firm, he says, it’s important to fill these gaps in education because the ‘product’ that the firm is ultimately selling is their people.

In offering the PSC course and a newly developed Junior Lawyers Development Programme (JDLP), ULaw is helping law firms and future lawyers to address these gaps. “These courses,” says Moser, “will be directly aimed at firms and businesses in filling those gaps. These provide businesses with the opportunity to acquire learning and address their learning needs.” At ULaw, he says, “all of our courses are delivered by qualified lawyers, with each course tailored to the needs of each business, including electives and programmes that can be developed with each client.”

LegalEdCon 2024: Final release tickets on sale now

Interested to dig into the differences between internal learning teams and outsourcing learning to ULaw, we ask Moser for ULaw’s unique selling points in this space. “ULaw is a university,” he begins, “and therefore it has a different culture to a law firm — a learning culture.” The flexibility of ULaw’s offering, he says, “provides the opportunity to explore different learning options.”

He continues, “law firm culture is not reputed for its experimentalism because lawyers are trained to avoid failure and risk like the plague. We have a space at ULaw that allows us to explore different electives. As an example, we are exploring how an AI and legal tech module might fit within professional development.”

Without revealing too much, we ask Moser what he’s planning to cover as a speaker at the LegalEdCon 2024. “I’ll be speaking on what I’m passionate about,” he reveals, “and that’s legal education. I’ll also be touching on how we can address the gaps in legal professional development, and the importance of doing so.”

Jim Moser will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2024, Legal Cheek’s annual future of legal education and training conference, which takes place in-person on Thursday 16 May at Kings Place, London. Final release tickets for the Conference can be purchased here.

Find out more about the Junior Lawyer Development Programme at The University of Law

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