Fusing the training for solicitors and barristers could save the bar

Fusing the training for solicitors and barristers could save the bar, argues Stephen Dale of Pupillageblog.

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Stephen Dale

Last week, chair of the SRA Charles Plant challenged the existing training contract model, saying that “we have a system for recruitment to the legal profession that isn’t followed anywhere else in the world.”

Even more audaciously, he believes that solicitors and barristers should share training and that an individual should be able to transfer between the two professions more easily.

This is a compelling idea, especially in light of the fact that sets of chambers are closing due to the cuts to legal aid.

Given the current political appetite towards the legal profession from Chris Grayling and the Lord Chancellor’s department, time is not on the side of the bar.

If ever there was evidence that the writing was on the wall, the outsourcing of criminal defence from the once sacred skills of the honed criminal advocate to firms such as Eddie Stobart or Tesco should be a clear sign to the legal community.

A decisive move from those who are charged by their members with upholding the standards and continuance of the legal profession is needed.

There is an inescapable momentum growing and the appointed chairs will need to work more closely together if they want to secure a foothold for the profession in a constantly changing legal tide.

As a legal academic, I am only too aware of how important it is to support and encourage students. If there is to be a future for the bar, then there must be a demonstrable prospect of success for the entrant, with the backing of the professional body to ensure ongoing support in the provision of an unhindered pathway to practise. Equally, there needs to be sufficient work to ensure that those in practice are able to remain in the profession.

The fusion of pathways would provide an opportunity for the legal profession to continue to evolve and provide the much needed collective strategic approach to expand and safeguard the career opportunities within the profession, while enabling each legal entity to maintain its own individual presence.

While any transformation may go against the hardened principles of some of those at the roots of the bar, this fusion might just provide the much-needed legal remedy to ensure the sustainability and future of the ever changing bar.

Barrister Stephen Dale is a tutor in law at Surrey Business School and writes pupillageblog.com