Law schools face crackdown as legal education goes under spotlight

The three biggest legal regulators have launched a full-scale review of legal education and training as concerns about the oversupply of law students continue to escalate.

The review by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards (IPS) will examine routes to qualification and the requirements placed on law schools in light of the likely future shape of the legal market.

College of Law chief executive Nigel Savage welcomed the review and argued that it was long overdue. He added: “It [the review] must be root and branch and embrace the undergraduate degrees as well as post-graduate courses. It also needs to look at matching what lawyers do within the legal services market with a brand new education and training framework.”

“The oversupply issue is a symptom of the sweeping changes that are taking place in the legal market such as the outsourcing of the work handled by trainees and paralegals,” continued Savage.

The review follows the launch last summer of the Law Society’s campaign to warn students about the risks of a legal career (Lawyer2B.com, 28 July 2009) and comes at a time when the Legal Practice Course market continues to expand with, for example, BPP Law School’s recent announcement of its plans to launch in Cambridge, Liverpool and Newcastle.

According to the Law Society, 7,000 people completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) in 2008, but there are only 6,000 training contracts available this year.

Since the launch of the Law Society campaign the Bar Council has raised similar concerns about the mismatch between the number of students enrolling on the Bar Professional Training Course and available pupillage places.

Speaking at its 25th Annual Conference last week (Saturday 6) Nicholas Green QC, chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, revealed that over 4,000 applicants are now routinely competing for about 460 places.

Green said: “Morally, I have real qualms about a system of education which encourages universities to educate more and more law students, because a law student can be generated at virtually zero marginal cost.”

The regulators plan to appoint an external research team in February 2011.