Law Review: Legal Regulator in CUT student debt by CUTTING study shock!

In the finest tradition of English Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera the Legal Services Board Chairman, David Edmonds – who is neither lawyer nor educator (It would appear from his cv – not that that is an issue and may well be a benefit.  He has extensive commercial experience)  – has stepped into the fray by giving The Lord Upjohn lecture on the subject of legal education.

The central premise of his talk, reported on Legal Futures, appears to have been that having been told that legal education is not fit for purpose,  student debt could be cut by the simple solution of cutting the study time. No detail appears to have been provided. One resists the temptation to do a reductio ad absurdum.  He also appears to have thought that training lawyers in a similar fashion to the way accountancy firms train their accountants on the job may be a solution. I bet the big law firms just love that idea! They weren’t that keen when I did a review for Magic Circle firms on the LPC 10 years ago and one senior partner even told me…”We are lawyers, we lawyer… we are not legal educators” Interestingly, David Edmonds appears to have completely overlooked the fact that this route to qualification as a lawyer is well established through ILEX… but, be that as it may.

Further, given that The Bar is really a collection of individuals, one is a bit perplexed about the issue of barristers being trained using the accountancy firm modus operandi… but, be that, also, as it may.  Perhaps Mr Edmonds overlooked the Bar as well when he made his speech?

Legal Futures reports quotes from his speech….“He welcomed greater flexibility in postgraduate legal education, as well as delivery methods “that more closely align teaching to the demands of legal practice”, highlighting the need for “a constant interplay between practice and education”. He continued: “As student finance becomes ever more difficult, I really hope that we see this type of initiative being taken even further. For those leaving school and aiming for a legal career, we need to see the total length of time spent in education – and so the total amount of debt – shrink. This is linked to ensuring that students do not need to make crucial, and costly, investment decisions too early on, before getting a real ‘feel’ for the area of practice and all that it will involve.”

Legal Futures ends the coverage with this…. “The Legal Services Board is billing the review – which originally it intended to conduct itself – as “the most penetrating enquiry into the training needs of lawyers since the Ormrod review in 1971”

In the light of the foregoing it is probably just as well the SRA and the BSB are conducting the review.  I have reasonable confidence that the review will even consider the views of professionals in the field of legal education at both university and vocational stages – a divisional distinction which I shall keep for the present.

Being vaguely serious for just a moment… there is no doubt that student debt can be cut, not by shrinking the amount of study, but by changing the way that content is delivered.  We live in the age of the internet.  Not all teaching need be face to face… but.. the law schools, particularly the vocational law schools, won’t like the idea… it may, god forbid, lead to a cut in the fees being charged for the course – particularly if we are really clever about it and have one central set of materials and a central set of high quality recorded lectures and pick the best lecturers and practitioners to provide these recorded materials!

I end by reporting that I have just seen a large squadron of Pigs flying over The Thames  en route for Chancery Lane in Holborn.  “I love the smell of vested self interest in the morning”….said one pig.

9 thoughts on “Law Review: Legal Regulator in CUT student debt by CUTTING study shock!

  1. I am intrigued at the notion that lawyers think the best way to become lawyers is to spend three or four years at university, followed by some vocational training all at the expense of the student or the student’s family.

    Ah, the penny drops…

  2. Actually there is a lot to be said for training on the job.

    I had only one year of formal legal education. I passed Part I of the Bar exams without enrolling in law school. I bought sample examination papers from the Council of Legal Education and second hand copies of the text books from Wildys which I read on the tube to and from work.

    For the rest of the time I worked full time as an investment analyst. Compared to my undergraduate degree at St Andrews and graduate studies at UCLA I found law pretty tame stuff.

    I still managed to pass Bar finals ahead of Patricia Scotland and several other contemporaries who have made it to the bench or distinguished themselves in silk.

    Where I learned my law was in chambers. My opinions and drafting were torn apart mercilessly by two very bright pupil masters but I did learn the law and I did learn to draft. I learned advocacy by sitting in court, doing my own simple cases in the employment tribunal for the FRU and later simple winders and motions during the long vacation.

    My pupil masters, incidentally, did not have to go to Bar school at all. Both took Bar finals immediately after university and they both made it to the bench.

    I don’t think we should dismiss Mr Edmonds’s suggestions out of hand.

  3. Jane – indeed. But… is is scaleable? Are all barristers prepared to invest in training up a pupil to that level of expertise?

    I do think we need to look at delivering the content in a more effective way. Do we actually need 100 lecturers in the law of contract, tort, equity etc etc etc? (i.e. one or more in every university)

  4. “… Billing the review …” An unfortunate choice of words?

    Thank God for BPP and it’s two year LL.B., shaving a year off what is already a long bloody process!

  5. I would not know David Edmonds if he was standing in front of me, but I would not dismiss his comments out of hand; if only because as neither a lawyer nor educator he has two plus points in his favour !

    I am qualified as both an accountant and lawyer, and so have gone through both routes albeit with a couple of decades in between. I also recall the time when, with the law bodies talking about the introduction of the, then, LPC/BVC, accountants were not keen on following suit. The reasons why (poor quality training, inability to supervise number of entrants etc) are now apparent in the legal world.

    The accountancy model (by which, we mean, here, that for chartered accountants) is hardly novel and is, as best I am aware, very similar to that which applied to trainee solicitors until 25 years ago.

    Accountants do not undertake the training of aspirants themselves (save for the huge outfits that have their own training schools in house).

    Rather, students study and work in parallel, with the education being in the student’s own time with some day release factored in to their contracts.

    Where classroom training is involved, it is delivered by the likes of BPP (as it was in the good old days with Charlie Prior et al) and various other equivalent providers. The providers are, however, acting as subcontractors to the employers and are closely monitored because it is the employer who is reponsible for the student study performance (unlike lawyers, there is no separate diploma to be had). Some of the providers are nfp subsidiaries of the accountancy firms themselves.

    During the day, when working and being paid for doing so, student accountants undertake productive work. At the outset, this may be not much more than photocopying but, towards the end of the training period and assuming the student is up to scratch, they will be highly skilled and productive, and will have had the benefit of learning from, and being supervised by, experienced and proven practitioners (rather than the classroom equivalent of career failures and has-beens as are so often found in the law schools).

    By running the work and study together, the whole period is superfically longer. The minimum time to complete the training contract and exams is 3 years; many take closer to 4 years. But this is merely the length of time is takes to complete the LPC and a training contract.

    The advantages of the accountancy model are, in my view, many. And for both sides, aspirants and employers.

    Aspirants know at the outset whether they are considered suitable for a career in the profession. If they cannot get a training contract, they cannot start any studying.

    Aspirants are in receipt of an income from day one, and have their study fees paid for them. The competition for training contracts is very high (this year, a 1st from a good Russell was the entry level for the largest accountancy firms) and the no hopers with ropey academics are quickly weeded out (whether for good or bad, there is no encouragement by the system of the “everyone deserves a crack at it” nonsense so loved by lawyers and, moreover, law schools).

    The employers are paying from day one and do, therefore, only take on enough students to fulfill their immediate commercial expectations. The number of aspirants who pass the exams, finish the training contract, are admitted, but who then cannot then find decent work, are tiny.

    In summary, when comparing the two routes, both have their pros and cons but, like it or not, you will not find any hand wringing by the accountancy bodies over the mess they are presiding over when it comes to their education brief.

  6. In fairness to David Edmonds, he did recognise the role of IT in changing the way legal education is delivered – obviously my Legal Futures story couldn’t reflect every aspect of a 45 minute speech. For those who want to read the whole thing unfiltered by me, you can find it on the LSB website: http://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/news_publications/speeches_presentations/2010/de_lord_upjohn_lec.pdf

    I would say, however, that I found it a slightly disappointing speech (on paper – I wasn’t there to hear it). That perhaps was inevitable given that, as DE said, he has more questions than answers at this stage (which is fair enough), but it just didn’t fire my imagination. I felt rather glad at the end of it that the LSB was persuaded not to undertake this review itself, although I think it would be good for the regulators to bring in someone independent from the outside the steer it and give it a fresh perspective.

    In my view, the most important thing for the LSB to do is keep on the back of the reglators to make sure they deliver. This is a two-year project, but they promise that ‘policy findings’ will be delivered during the course of the review.

  7. the accountancy model for solicitors is a very good solution.

    As for the Bar, the entire system of a Bar Council minimum payment during pupillage is contrary to the self-employed ethos as well.

    Everyone knows the introductions of minimum pupillage payments have been counter-productive.

    There are many chambers who would be happy for an unpaid pupil – and likewise, many non practising barristers who would like the opportunity of a pupillage, even if it means sleeping on someone’s sofa for 6 months – one year.

    That should be the pupil’s choice and the chambers’s choice.

    As we were discussing elsewhere, there are too many regulators. Go back to basics and get rid of these quangocrats! (They won’t because we, not the taxpayer, subsidise them)

    With one regulator, you’d have the will-writing “light touch” to regulation apply to advocacy. You’d have QLD regulations hand in hand with “quality concerns” re re-accreditation concerns – and you’d have enforcement and discipline devolved to lower levels as appropriate – remember when a judge had a concern he mentioned it to the relevant Master/Under Treasurer of the relevant Inn?

    Remember when a word to the Law Society was enough?

    utter chaos. That the entire system is such a contradictory tangle is indicative of the old motto:

    Lawyers are not managers.

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