Back to the Drawing Board?

Deveral Capps examines the largest review of legal education for 40 years

It has been over 40 years since legal education as a whole was reviewed in England and Wales. In 1971, the Ormrod review investigated the relationship between the legal profession and universities and considered how lawyers should be trained. The review took three years to complete and has, by and large, led to the system of legal education that we have today. Since then, large-scale reviews of the law, legal practice and legal training have taken place, though these have focused more on the practise of law rather than the training of lawyers. For example in 1979 the Benson Report, or more formally the Royal Commission on Legal Services, gave rise to the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 and in 2004, the Clementi Review led to the Courts and Legal Services Act 2007.


In 2010, David Edmonds, the Chairman of the Legal Services Board, announced that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”), the Bar Standards Board (“BSB”) and the Institute of Legal Executives (“ILEX”) would join together to review legal education in England and Wales. This review, originally titled Review 2020, is now known as the Legal Education and Training Review (“LETR”) and is due to publish its final report in December 2012. The review is timely; with the introduction of alternative business structures, the likely globalisation of legal services and probable extensions to barristers’ direct access, it is important that the lawyers who deliver legal services tomorrow are appropriately trained and prepared for the changes ahead.

Since Ormrod reported, the regulatory bodies responsible for solicitors and barristers have reviewed their own training needs. In 1989 the Bar Finals were replaced with the Bar Vocational Course and more recently, in 2008, Derek Wood QC reported to the BSB on training for the Bar. Now validated UK institutions are delivering the Bar Professional Training Course (“BPTC”) to a second cohort of prospective barristers. Similarly, students intending to undertake training contracts and qualify as solicitors are now studying the third incarnation of the Legal Practice Course.

LETR aims to be a ‘root and branch’ review of legal education and comprises three parts: the Research Executive, the Research Group and the Consultation Steering Panel.


Research Executive and Research Group

The Research Executive, made up of the senior management teams of the BSB, SRA and ILEX, is managing the overall review process. The review itself is being carried out by a Research Group, an independent team of legal educationalists and consultants commissioned by the BSB, SRA and ILEX. Julian Web, Professor of Legal Education at the University of Warwick and former Bar Council educational consultant leads the UKCLE Research Consortium. This consortium has five lead researchers, two research assistants and three consultants and is administratively supported by the SRA.


The Consultation Steering Panel

The Research Group is supported by a Consultation Steering Panel jointly chaired by Dame Janet Gaymer, solicitor, and Sir Mark Potter, the former President of the Family Division. This panel comprises practitioners (barristers, solicitors and legal executives), legal educationalists (both academic and vocational) and law students. There are also representatives from the General Medical Council and the Architects Registration Board who have been invited to participate because they have each recently conducted similar reviews. The Steering Panel, scheduled to meet 6 times before December 2012 has, so far, met twice, with the third meeting due mid March.

Of the thirty-one people who sit on the steering panel, and including Sir Mark, there are 6 barristers. There are representatives from the Bar Council (Maura McGowan QC), the BSB (Vanessa Davies), BPTC providers (myself), the Employed Bar (Peter Grieves-Smith) and the Young Bar (Colin Andress). The BSB’s Education and Training Committee also has a seat. A full list of the steering panel members can be found at http://www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/letr-panel-appointment.page. It is worth noting that of the barrister representatives two, myself and Peter Grieves-Smith, also sit on the Advocacy Training Council. The Steering Panel’s primary aim is to offer advice to the research group where required and thereby support the interests of those they represent.


Four review phases

The review has been neatly divided into four distinct phases.

Phase one, a literature review of all writing on professional education worldwide, has been completed and will be placed in the public domain (www.letr.org.uk.)
Phase two is on-going, and involves mapping the current position of legal education and training and identifying future needs based upon current trends. 
Phase three concentrates on workforce development.
Phase four will be the final report and LETR’s recommendations.

The whole process will conclude in December 2012.


What questions are being asked?

We are currently midway through the review and it not possible to foresee what recommendations will be made. However, those identified in Fig.1 (opposite) could be the type of questions asked of the research group and therefore may give rise to change. It should be made clear that none of these areas will definitely be reviewed, however, they are areas that most certainly fall within the review’s spotlight. It must be noted that these are speculative and are not intended to be alarmist.

Whether the Research Group will review some, or any of the issues set out in Fig.1 is unknown. What is apparent is that LETR has a difficult task ahead of it because the precise future of legal practice is so uncertain. Alternative business structures are likely to be accompanied by an increase in the demand for paralegals. There is also a realistic prospect that ABSs will lead to a proportion of low level UK legal services being outsourced abroad, for example to India and China. In order to prepare for, or at least lay the foundation for a new training regime, LETR clearly needs to anticipate what lawyers will be doing in 10 years time.  This is incredibly difficult.

Of the review the BSB have said “We are pleased that the Review is now progressing. We hope that the research builds upon our previous evaluations of the Bar Professional Training Course and Pupillage and our current work on the Continuing Professional Development requirements for barristers. The collaborative approach to this review will ensure a positive future for the legal profession”. 

We should all hope that LETR’s recommendations, whatever they may be, ensure a positive future for the Bar.



Deveral Capps, Northumbria University
Member of the Consultation Steering Panel



Possible discussion areas (Figure1)

With regard to the academic core law subjects, should those who intend to practise law in the future have to study contract, tort, land law, equity and trusts, public law, crime and EU law?

Are these still central to legal practise or should some of these ‘traditional’ university subjects be replaced with legal skills, for example, management and communication skills or perhaps advocacy?

There are some who believe that legal ethics should be taught at an earlier stage of the legal curriculum and should become one of the compulsory components. Conversely, some academics and practitioners believe that the prescriptive requirements of the core law subjects fetter legal study and so individual law schools should have greater freedom to determine their own legal curriculum.

Should we follow the United States and make the study of law purely a postgraduate activity?

Would a few years more life experience and extended academic study produce lawyers who are better equipped to serve the interests of their clients?

With many universities planning to charge the full £9,000 fee per annum for undergraduate study from September 2012, should we be thinking of ways to make it easier to qualify as a lawyer through work-based learning?

Could LETR lead to a common programme of vocational training for lawyers? After all, the law is the law, regardless of whether you are a solicitor, barrister or legal executive. It is not outside the bounds of possibility that LETR will recommend that everyone train as a solicitor and then following some additional examinations be called to the Bar, thereby following systems similar to those in Scotland and Australia.
Should continuing professional development be altered, merged or just simply deleted? It is unlikely that the requirement for CPD will disappear altogether, but differing hourly requirements between the various arms of the profession could be difficult to justify

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