Education revolution: what next?

The way law students learn and progress through the junior ranks of firms and chambers might be about to change forever.

Ahead of what could be a revolution in legal education, Lawyer 2B asks three experts what their wishlist for the upcoming Legal Education and Training Review, touted as the most important review of legal education for decades.

Second to voice her views is Bex Huxley-Binns, learning and teaching coordinator and reader in legal education at Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University, teaching fellow and Law Teacher of the Year 2010.

She writes about what she would like to see the review do here:

Replacing the mandated foundation subjects with legal intellectual and practical skills

I am not sure that anyone still thinks, if they ever did, that the sole or even main purpose of an undergraduate law degree is preparation for a career as a solicitor or barrister. Some students will, of course, become solicitors or barristers having read law at university, but many more students read law and then either do not want to become lawyers, or are unable to find legal work.

But the law degree is a fabulous qualification in its own right and students are well placed for careers in myriad professions from a law background. My problem is with the mandated foundation subjects; they simply do not represent what is best about law, and the common law in particular. Reading and applying case law and legislation, interpreting and construing language, being articulate and persuasive, authoritative and confident; all within the context of the Rule of Law and working ethically (something to which I turn in a moment) are more important legal skills than, I suggest, knowing the rules governing frustration of contract or the rule against perpetuities.

The regulation of the qualifying law degree, a concept for which I have a great deal of time, should herald what makes law unique, dynamic, and why careers in law continue to be so sought after.

Adding ethics to the foundation subjects

I would be, quite honestly, amazed, if the LETR report did not recommend adding ethics to the foundations of every undergraduate law degree, as well as the Graduate Diploma in Law. I would hope the recommendation would be to advocate a form of values-driven subject, not professional code compliance, or even a traditional jurisprudence module, but an applied ethics course where students learn about legal and even political philosophy to be enlightened about moral and ethical choices. I am optimistic that this type of course would allow students a space to discuss the values and tolerate values that they do not share but which are equally, if incommensurably, valid.

Ensuring diverse, flexible pathways to jobs, and careers, in the law

I am not too proud to admit that I have learned so much from reading the LETR discussion papers about the huge breadth of the existing legal professions, and the range of existing pathways to qualification as a ‘lawyer’ – I have put the term in inverted commas because it seems the best collective noun for the eight regulated professions as well as the huge volume of people doing unregulated legal work, not to forget  paralegals.

Yet, despite this diversity of access to a diverse profession, there are clearly issues of equality of opportunity, and the composition of the professions in terms of sex, age and ethnic minority representation. I am not sure what I would have on my wish list to see more diversity in and more flexibility en route to becoming a lawyer, but I anticipate some new ways to qualification will be recommended.