LETR still stalled

The revolution of legal education will have to wait. Indefinitely it seems

Sir Mark Potter

Sir Mark Potter: co-chairing the LETR steering panel

The much-anticipated Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) was originally intended for publication in December 2012, according to the Bar Standards Board. The Solicitors Regulation Authority then set a date of 16 January 2013 but announced five days beforehand that the team behind the review needed more time “finalising” the report.

In a statement last month, the SRA said: “Given the weight of evidence and in consideration of the importance and complexity of the review, the commissioning regulators have agreed to allow the LETR research team more time to finalise the report. A date for publication will be issued shortly.”

A month later and the legal education community is still none the wiser. Almost a month to the day later, on 12 February, an SRA spokesperson told Lawyer 2B: “It hopefully shouldn’t be too long now.”

Keele University law professor Fiona Cownie, a member of the LETR steering panel co-chaired by Dame Janet Gaymer and Sir Mark Potter, said she had “absolutely no idea” when the review would be published. She added: “I don’t know anybody who knows. I imagine the only people who know are the review team themselves.”

In the meantime, academics and lawyers alike have been speculating about how future lawyers might be educated from now on.

Becky Huxley-Binns, learning and teaching coordinator and reader in legal education at Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University, is in favour of replacing the mandated foundation subjects with legal intellectual and practical skills.

She says: “I’m 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.

“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.”

Melissa Hardee, education consultant and former CMS Cameron McKenna partner and Legal Practice Course tutor, stressed that although the current bottleneck for training contracts and pupillages was troubling, any response needs to be thoroughly thought through.

She said: “This issue has not been addressed properly to date: there have been overwrought statements from some in the academy and from regulators that the bottleneck is the fault of the professions in not offering more training contracts or pupillages. This completely misunderstands that the professions work as businesses and are entitled to resource their businesses according to their business needs.

“The question which should be asked is why there are so many graduates coming through with unrealistic expectations of their career chances… the cause of the over-supply needs to be addressed, and this has to do with students choosing or being induced to take law degrees or GDL courses without being properly informed about their prospects for careers.”

Now that is a subject ripe for review.