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Review urges incremental but significant reform to legal education and training

The Legal Education and Training Review has proposed a range of “incremental but collectively significant” reforms, rather than a radical shake-up, in a long-awaited report published today (25 June).

The review said that the current system for legal services education and training (LSET) provided – “for the most part” – a good standard, enabling the development of the core knowledge and skills needed for practice across the range of regulated legal professions.

However, it added that there were a number of ways in which quality, accessibility and flexibility needed to be enhanced to ensure that the system remained fit for the future.

The review said consistency should be enhanced through a more robust system of learning outcomes and standards as well as increased standardisation of assessment.

It also called for a strengthening of the requirements for education and training in legal ethics, values and professionalism, the development of management skills, communication skills, and equality and diversity.

The LETR said a greater emphasis should be placed on assuring the continuing competence of legal service providers through a system of continuing professional development that would require practitioners more actively to plan and demonstrate the value of continuing learning.

Also in relation to quality, it argued that regulators should be required to gather and make available key data and information that would reduce information gaps, support decision-making by prospective entrants, consumers and employers, and increase the effective market regulation of LSET.

On the issue of access and mobility, the LETR said its recommendations would:

  • establish professional standards for internships and work experience;
  • enhance quality and increase opportunities for career progression and mobility within paralegal work, “by encouraging regulatory and representative bodies to collaborate in the development of a single voluntary system of certification/licensing for paralegal staff, based on a common set of paralegal outcomes and standards”;
  • provide higher quality and more accessible information on the range of legal careers and the realities of the legal services job market;
  • support and monitor the development of higher apprenticeships at levels 6-7 as a non-graduate pathway into the regulated sector.

In relation to the third strand, flexibility, the LETR said its reforms would:

  • expect regulators to co-operate in setting outcomes for LSET to ensure equivalence of baseline standards;
  • clarify systems for accreditation of prior learning and transfer between professional routes, and ensure that these do not create unnecessary barriers to progression;
  • remove requirements in training regulations that unduly restrict the development of innovative and flexible pathways to qualification, including the more effective integration of classroom- and workplace-learning.

For a full list of the report’s 26 recommendations, which are grouped into outcomes and standards, content, structures and review processes, see below.

The LETR did not, however, recommend “at this stage” a move to greater activity-based authorisation for reasons of potential cost and complexity, “particularly within the present system of multiple regulators”.

The recommendations have been designed to tackle some of the deficiencies identified during the course of the review.

The LETR concluded, amongst other things, that there was insufficient assurance of a consistent quality of outcomes and standards of assessment. It added that there were knowledge and skills gaps in respect of legal values and professional ethics.

The report also said limits on the acceptable forms of professional training, notably at vocational and CPD stages) might unnecessarily impact the utility of training, inhibit innovation, or restrict competition.

Reforms should be introduced, where possible, by regulators and stakeholders collaboratively co-designing legal services education and training.

“This will enable the LSET system to respond strategically to change in what is likely to remain a very uncertain economic and political environment over the next decade,” the report argued.

The report will be used by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards to develop their education and training regimes.

In response to the report, the SRA promised to undertake – as a key priority – a radical review of the skills and knowledge required to merit qualification as a solicitor.

Charles Plant, Chair of the SRA Board, said: "Our programme of reforms to education and training will be driven by three overarching aims: that clients and the public should have the highest confidence in the quality and integrity of legal services; that organisations providing legal services should be able to employ lawyers with the skills needed to deliver those services; and that people with the ability to practise law, whatever their background, should be able to obtain the education and training they need in a way which encourages excellence and diversity."

Plant added: "The report indicates areas that need addressing if we are to ensure that legal education and training remain fit for purpose in the radically altering world of legal services, nationally and internationally. The SRA needs to ensure that it is setting the right standards for modern legal practice for solicitors and others delivering legal services, that it is using effective mechanisms to assure the standards which it sets, and that it is not imposing unnecessary restrictions.”

THE LETR’S RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation 1: Learning outcomes should be prescribed for the knowledge, skills and attributes expected of a competent member of each of the regulated professions. These outcome statements should be supported by additional standards and guidance as necessary.

Recommendation 2: Such guidance should require education and training providers to have appropriate methods in place for setting standards in assessment to ensure that students or trainees have achieved the outcomes prescribed.

Recommendation 3: Learning outcomes for prescribed qualification routes into the regulated professions should be based on occupational analysis of the range of knowledge, skills and attributes required. They should begin with a set of ‘day one’ learning outcomes that must be achieved before trainees can receive authorisation to practise. These learning outcomes could be cascaded downwards, as appropriate, to outcomes for different initial stages or levels of LSET. Learning outcomes may also be set (see below) for post-qualification activities.

Recommendation 4: Mechanisms should be put in place for regulators to coordinate and co-operate with relevant stakeholders including members of their regulated profession, other regulators, educational providers, trainees and consumers, in the setting of learning outcomes and prescription of standards.

Recommendation 5: Longer term, further consideration should be given to the development of a common framework of learning outcomes and standards for the legal services sector as a whole.

Recommendation 6: LSET schemes should include appropriate learning outcomes in respect of professional ethics, legal research, and the demonstration of a range of written and oral communication skills.

Recommendation 7: The learning outcomes at initial stages of LSET should include reference (as appropriate to the individual practitioner’s role) to an understanding of the relationship between morality and law, the values underpinning the legal system, and the role of lawyers in relation to those values.

Recommendation 8: Advocacy training across the sector should pay greater attention to preparing trainees and practitioners in their role and duties as advocates when appearing against self-represented litigants.

Recommendation 9: Learning outcomes should be developed for post-qualification continuing learning in the specific areas of:

  • Professional conduct and governance.
  • Management skills (at the appropriate points in the practitioner’s career. This may also be targeted to high risk sectors, such as sole practice).
  • Equality and diversity (not necessarily as a cyclical obligation).

Recommendation 10: The balance between Foundations of Legal Knowledge in the Qualifying Law Degree and Graduate Diploma in Law should be reviewed, and the statement of knowledge and skills within the Joint Statement should be reconsidered with particular regard to its consistency with the Law Benchmark statement and in the light of the other recommendations in this report. A broad content specification should be introduced for the Foundation subjects. The revised requirements should, as at present, not exceed 180 credits within a standard three-year Qualifying Law Degree course.

Recommendation 11: There should be a distinct assessment of legal research, writing and critical thinking skills at level 5 or above in the Qualifying Law Degree and in the Graduate Diploma in Law. Educational providers should retain discretion in setting the context and parameters of the task, provided that it is sufficiently substantial to give students a reasonable but challenging opportunity to demonstrate their competence.

Recommendation 12: The structure of the Legal Practice Course stage 1 (for intending solicitors) should be modified with a view to increasing flexibility of delivery and the development of specialist pathways. Reduction of the breadth of the required technical knowledge-base is desirable, so as to include an appropriate focus on commercial awareness, and better preparation for alternative practice contexts. The adequacy of advocacy training and education in the preparation and drafting of wills needs to be addressed.

Recommendation 13: On the Bar Professional Training Course (for intending barristers), Resolution of Disputes out of Court should be reviewed to place greater practical emphasis on the skills required by Alternative Dispute Resolution, particularly with regard to mediation advocacy.

Recommendation 14: LSET structures which allow different levels or stages (in particular formal education and periods of supervised practice) to take place concurrently should be encouraged where they do not already exist. It should not be mandated. Sequential LSET structures, where formal education is completed before starting supervised practice, should also be permitted where appropriate. In either case, consistency between what is learned in formal education and what is learned in the workplace is encouraged, and facilitated by the setting of ‘day one’ outcomes.

Recommendation 15: Definitions of minimum or normal periods of supervised practice should be reviewed in order to ensure that individuals are able to qualify or proceed into independent practice at the point of satisfying the required day one outcomes. Arrangements for periods of supervised practice should also be reviewed to remove unnecessary restrictions on training environments and organisations and to facilitate additional opportunities for qualification or independent practice.

Recommendation 16: Supervisors of periods of supervised practice should receive suitable support and education/ training in the role. This should include initial training and periodic refresher or recertification requirements.

Recommendation 17: Models of CPD that require participants to plan, implement, evaluate and reflect annually on their training needs and their learning should be adopted where they are not already in place. This approach may, but need not, prescribe minimum hours. If a time requirement is not included, a robust approach to monitoring planning and performance must be developed to ensure appropriate activity is undertaken. Where feasible, much of the supervisory task may be delegated to appropriate entities (including chambers), subject to audit.

Recommendation 18: There should be regular and appropriate supervision of CPD, and schemes should be audited to ensure that they correspond to appropriate learning outcomes. Audit should be a developmental process involving practitioners, entities and the regulator.

Recommendation 19: In the short to medium-term, regulators should cooperate with one another to facilitate the cross-recognition of CPD activities, as a step towards more cost-effective CPD and harmonisation of approaches in the longer term.

Recommendation 20: In the light of the Milburn Reports on social mobility, conduct standards and guidance governing the offering and conduct of internships and work placements should be put in place.

Recommendation 21: Work should proceed to develop higher apprenticeship qualifications at levels 5-7 as part of an additional non-graduate pathway into the regulated professions, but the quality and diversity effects of such pathways should be monitored.

Recommendation 22: Within regulated entities, there is no clearly established need to move to individual regulation of paralegals. Regulated entities must however ensure that policies and procedures are in place to deliver adequate levels of supervision and training of paralegal staff, and regulators must ensure that robust audit mechanisms provide assurance that these standards are being met. To ensure consistency and enhance opportunities for career progression and mobility within paralegal work, the development of a single voluntary system of certification/licensing for paralegal staff should also be considered, based on a common set of paralegal outcomes and standards.

Recommendation 23: Consideration should be given by the Legal Services Board and representative bodies to the role of voluntary quality schemes in assuring the standards of independent paralegal providers outside the existing scheme of regulation. The Legal Services Board may wish to consider this issue as part of its work on the reservation and regulation of general legal advice.

Recommendation 24: Providers of legal education (including private providers) should be required to publish diversity data for their professional or vocational courses, Qualifying Law Degrees and Graduate Diplomas in Law and their equivalents.

Recommendation 25: A body, the ‘Legal Education Council’, should be established to provide a forum for the coordination of the continuing review of LSET and to advise the approved regulators on LSET regulation and effective practice. The Council should also oversee a collaborative hub of legal information resources and activities able to perform the following functions:

  • Data archive (including diversity monitoring and evaluation of diversity initiatives);
  • Advice shop (careers information);
  • Legal Education Laboratory (supporting collaborative research and development);
  • Clearing house (advertising work experience; advising on transfer regulations and reviewing disputed transfer decisions).

Recommendation 26: In the light of the regulatory objectives and the limited engagement by consumers and consumer organisations in the research phase of the LETR, it is recommended that the regulators ensure that appropriate consumer input and representation are integrated into the consultation and implementation activities planned for the next phase of the LETR.