Law departments attack the profession’s meddling

Law Society and Bar Council under fire for plans to monitor legal syllabus

A power struggle between the legal profession and university law schools has been reignited by the Law Society’s and Bar Council’s plans to scrutinise course standards from September.

Under the framework, which is the product of a year-long consultation, law schools need to provide the professional bodies with previously confidential information on how law courses are run. In return, the profession has offered to issue new guidance on resources and course content, which the law schools are strongly recommended to take into account.

But academics have rejected the new framework, with some regarding it as an imposition on academic freedoms. Others are unhappy that it contains some of the issues flatly rejected by universities at the consultation stage.

Fiona Cownie, chair of the Society of Legal Scholars’ legal education committee, said: “Our view is that it would be unfortunate if the effect of the proposals was to put us back

to a situation where we’re essentially talking about compulsory changes to legal education. We’d be very disappointed if that was to happen.”

Yet the professional bodies have rejected worries that the framework will restrict law schools’ autonomy. Julie Swan, head of education and training at the Law Society, said: “We want to actively engage with universities, follow up any concerns and share examples of good practice. We also want to encourage students to become informed consumers and to thoroughly research the institutions they’re applying to.

“We’ve aimed to strike a balance between ensuring that appropriate standards are maintained without bringing in unnecessary bureaucracy for universities. We hope that we’ve struck it.”