Reforming legal education

Lucy Mair considers what a delayed review could mean for legal training

The Legal Education Training Review (LETR) - the most significant review of legal education in 30 years - has been delayed for the second time this year. Publication of the review, which was due in December 2012 after 18 months of research, was first delayed until January 2013 and is now not expected until May.

The LETR is assessing the education and training of both solicitors and barristers from undergraduate to post-qualification level and its final report is expected to make recommendations to reform the legal training system and make it fit for today's competitive legal market. It's being run by the law profession's three main regulators - the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Bar Standards Board (BSB) and ILEX Professional Standards - all under close observation from the Legal Services Board (LSB).

A statement by the SRA in February said: "Given the weight of evidence and in consideration of the importance and complexity of the review, the commissioning regulators have agreed to allow the LETR research team more time to finalise the report."

Dean of Law at Kaplan Law School Dr Giles Proctor says it's not surprising that the LETR has been delayed, considering the breadth of its brief. "Given that they are looking at the whole spectrum, from undergraduate to post-qualification education and training, it's worth a few months' wait to have a joined up review report."

What is under review?

One of the current problems in the legal education and training system is that far more students study law at university than there are training contracts and pupillages available. As a result, a number of law students are unable to find work in the legal sector when they graduate.

Not only that, Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) providers have argued that university law degrees are too academic in focus, which hampers vocational training later on. Whether training contracts and pupillages are the best way to train new solicitors and barristers to practice law has also been called into question.

To address these problems in the system, the LETR was conceived in November 2010 by the chairman of the LSB. A research group was appointed with the self-expressed intention to ensure the legal training system furthers two of the objectives set out in the Legal Services Act 2007: to protect and promote the interests of consumers, and to ensure an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession.

What could reform mean?

The review is the most comprehensive examination of legal training since 1971, and could have wide-ranging implications for legal education in England and Wales.

Some have suggested that undergraduate law degrees should cover a broader base to not only prepare students for careers as solicitors and barristers, but also teach transferable skills that can be applied to any career. Meanwhile others have said that the LPC should be restricted to students who have already secured a training contract, or that training contracts should be abolished in favour of qualification upon successful completion of the LPC.

But Dr Proctor doesn't anticipate too many changes to the current legal education system. "There will be a focus on access to the professions and probably a spotlight on paralegals and legal apprenticeships. The training contract itself will probably stay in place and the undergraduate and postgraduate route into practice will remain."

He adds that only "small reforms" are needed to improve the system. "The core academic and practical structures are in place, but more support for entrants into paralegal and legal apprenticeships, and a real focus on employability [are needed]."