Legal education locks horns with regulators

A law student who claims he was treated unfairly in court is planning to take legal action against the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine.

University law departments are bracing themselves for a showdown with the Law Society and Bar Council if controversial plans to shake-up standards in legal education go ahead. It is believed that some of the top law schools in the country would consider withdrawing their qualifying law degrees as an ultimate protest against the measures.

Earlier this year, the profession’s regulatory bodies, the Law Society and Bar Council, issued sets of proposals to address longstanding concerns related to the quality of law graduates, such as deficiencies in legal knowledge, a lack of basic understanding and poor research skills.

Under the proposed amendments to the ‘Joint Statement’, a contract thrashed out between the professional bodies and universities last year, the Law Society and Bar Council would have increased powers over teaching and resources, and could even send squads of practising lawyers into law schools as inspectors.

Fiona Cownie, chair of the Society of Legal Scholars’ education committee, said
law schools did not know what evidence lay behind the profession’s concerns. “The Society of Legal Scholars is surprised and slightly disappointed that the professional bodies are raising concerns about the ‘Joint Statement’ that has been in place for just over a year, and was agreed after a four-year negotiation period,” she said.

One source said that universities were “irritated” by many of the proposals, which they described as “premature”.

Andy Boon, head of Westminster University’s law school, agreed it was possible that some law schools might threaten to withdraw their degrees in protest to the profession’s intervention. “What if the Russell Group decides that it does not want to go down this line and will no longer offer a qualifying law degree? These are the institutions that produce the graduates all of the top firms apparently want to recruit. So there is the potential for a conflict between the profession and the big law firms,” he said.