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Legal regulators launch major review of education and training

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The requirements for lawyers to undergo continuing education will be scrutinised as part of a major review of legal services education and training launched today by the three main legal regulators.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards (IPS) said the aims of the review were to “ensure that the ethical standards and levels of competence of those delivering legal services in regulated law firms are sufficient to secure a high standard of service for clients”, and to “support the public interest and the rule of law”.

The review will examine:

  • The educational requirements placed upon individuals entering the sector (including programmes and pathways to professional qualification) and their regulatory function
  • The requirements for continuing education for individuals and entities (including Continuing Professional Development, accreditation and other quality assurance schemes)
  • The requirements placed upon those delivering approved education to individuals and entities.

Among the questions the review will address is the nature of the contribution of legal education and training to delivery of the regulatory objectives of the Legal Services Act 2007.

In this respect, the review will look at issues such as: the likely shape of and demands on legal services by 2020; the effects that the shape of legal services “may have upon the legal and other skills demanded from different kinds of lawyers and others employed in legal services in the future”; the need for high quality, competitive legal services and education and training providers and high ethical standards for lawyers and legal services entities; the need to promote social mobility and diversity; and forthcoming changes to the education sector.

The review will also examine whether the formal regulation of legal education and training should be extended to groups such as paralegals, and what can be done to address the issue of career development and mobility between branches of the legal profession.

The Legal Services Board has backed the review.

SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: “Ensuring that solicitors and others delivering legal services are properly educated and trained is just as important as making sure that firms and individuals conduct their businesses properly. The two areas of regulatory work are complementary and inter-dependant.

“Much of the recent focus of regulatory activity has been on reforming the structures for regulating legal businesses. This review will ensure that serious thought, based on thorough research and comprehensive consultation with all interested parties, is now given to education and training.”

Townsend argued that the collaborative approach of the three regulators would produce a “more holistic and informed outcome that takes account of the needs of clients and the perspectives of all regulated lawyers”.

The SRA will continue its work on work-based learning and its review of Continuing Professional Development. Findings will be incorporated as they emerge.

Alan Kershaw, chairman of the IPS, described the review as an important piece of work.

“IPS is keen to bring its unique contribution to the review and to work with all of the regulators to ensure that the competence and qualification standards of everyone providing legal services are appropriate to meet the needs of customers and the requirements of the Legal Services Act,” he said.

An external research team will be appointed in February 2011 to assist with the review.