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.