Brief summary: Access to the legal profession seminar

Lawyer 2B took a short jaunt to the Hall of India and Pakistan in Over-seas House yesterday (22 May 2012) to hear about the progress so far of the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) from the regulators and researchers. Or so we thought.

Stephen Mayson

Stephen Mayson

Unfortunately we didn’t learn much. Indeed legal commentator and academic Prof. Stephen Mayson of the Legal Services Institute summed the day up nicely: “My level of optimism about the review has been going down throughout this seminar”.

The day started with an introduction from LETR researcher Prof. Julian Webb, who reminded us that the function of the Review is to address how best to regulate legal education and training, and that the LETR research team was not starting with an assumption of any need for fundamental change.

In a blog post by Mayson he speaks of his dismay at this announcement, and comments: “My alarm bells are ringing: the market of the present is already (and the future market will surely be even more) fundamentally different, so is it appropriate to surmise that the education and training that underpins it will not need fundamental reform?”

He adds: “And while I can see the attraction of seeking an evidence base for change, and adopting a planning horizon that looks toward the market in 2020, I have to confess that I would not have predicted at the beginning of 2012 some of the developments we have already seen in the first five months of this year, let alone eight years hence. Inevitably, therefore, there cannot be any evidence for the change that might have occurred by 2020. Where does this leave a fundamental, evidence-based, policy review?”

In the blog post, Mayson continues to speak of previous events he has attended that have explored the work of the LETR, admitting that they have left him with an overwhelming sense that “the majority of participants are too readily assuming that the only issue that needs exploring is that of regulating the education and training of ‘the legal profession’”, while the Legal Services Act 2007 does not start with the assumption that legal services will be delivered by those who hold a professional title, or who are legally qualified.

A Q & A session followed Webb’s opening words, with Skills for Justice Charles Welsh, who is at the forefront of the development of a formal paralegal apprenticeship framework, firstly posing the question to Webb and LETR researcher Dr Jane Ching, what are the three best things in the current system? Apart from a laughter that erupted from the floor, we didn’t get much else of a response, apart from a brief summary of a couple of points taken from responses to the discussion papers, which frankly failed to provide anything that would substantially support Webb’s initial point that the current framework may only need a bit of tweaking.

Susan Blake of City Law School then asked whether the review would get to grips with legal education in an international context. Webb kept his answer short by saying; yes they’re looking at the international future context of legal education, particularly in North America, Australia and increasingly in Europe, and, predictably, finished with, “I wouldn’t want to add more on the issue”.  

In the panel session members of the profession spoke about which areas they thought should be the focus of the LETR. Oversupply was the most popular issue, with Simmons & Simmons graduate recruitment partner Alex Brown stating that it receives more than 2000 applications per 40 training contract places.  JLD student representative Mark Pentecost meanwhile felt that the real area for review was the LPC, while the law degree and training contract were still important components of legal education and training.  

Elsewhere Legal Cheek editor Alex Aldridge caused many sharp intakes of breath when he suggested that only people who have a pupilage should be allowed to undertake the BPTC, to which academic Rebecca Huxley-Binns said wasn’t feasible because of international students. He replied that law schools just want the money, to which she said that she does have a vested interest. Aldridge later tweeted: Law lecturer @BexHuxBinns says don’t reduce #BPTC places because it means she might earn less #WLPFEvents.

@BexHuxBinns replied: Yes, that’t the entirety of what I said. Not. Banning international students without pupillage from the BPTC is no answer.

When the regulators took the stand – the SRA quickly moved to cover its decision to remove minimum salary in light of the LETR, and defended it by saying it felt that by keeping it, it could have resulted in greater barriers to entry. In response Pentecost tweeted: Samanatha Barrass of SRA on priorities from core regulators. Now trying to justify abolishing the minimum salary. Unconvincing.

If anyone went to the seminar hoping to leave brimming with positive thoughts about the progress of the LETR, I suspect they were disappointed. Yet again we will have to wait while those involved remain tight-lipped about progress, and just hope that when they do have some concrete recommendations and plans, that they meet all the concerns and ongoing developments and changes in the current legal market.