Legal education review – will it affect you? A look at the career paths of three future lawyers

Three school children completed their GCSEs in 2000.

Andrew stayed on at school and finished his A levels in Economics, English and History in 2002. He did well and his parents were delighted. He went to a redbrick university to read law and graduated in 2005 with an upper second class degree with honours. Having already secured a training contract in his undergraduate second year, he completed his LPC in 2006, then his training contract and was admitted as a solicitor in 2008.

His classmate, Julia, left school after her GCSEs and was delighted to get a job as a trainee receptionist in a law firm. She went to secretarial college in the evenings and was so hard working and attentive she was promoted to receptionist in 2001, and was made a junior legal assistant in 2002. She started her ILEX level 3 qualifications part-time in 2002 and, having done very well, started the level 6 qualifications in 2005 and finished in 2008. She became a Fellow of ILEX in 2010 and completed the LPC part time and was admitted as a solicitor in 2012.

Another classmate of Julia and Andrew, Stephen, was very bright but not as engaged as he should or could have been at school. He left after his GCSEs and got a job doing general clerical work in an insurance firm. Despite his intelligence, he is often overlooked for promotion because other candidates have higher qualifications than him. He is often bored because the work isn't very challenging. He does unregulated legal work for the minimum wage.

That's a picture of reality. It is one picture of a reality that can and does exist today.

Last week, the BSB, the SRA and IPS revealed their responses to the Legal Education Training Review. This blog will crystal ball gaze on the basis of some of the potential applications of the SRA response. In a nutshell, that is to move legal services training and education towards a competence framework. It will be more subtle than this, but in essence it will consist of a list of what someone should know and be able to do at the point of qualification (in this case as a solicitor). How the person reaches that outcome will not be prescribed. The “time served” (undergraduate or GDL plus LPC for one year full time or two part time, the training contract for two years...) is, it is proposed, to be abolished. It won't matter how people qualify, which pathway, or how long it takes; if they are shown to be competent in the knowledge, skills and attributes required they are entitled to be called “solicitor”.

So, imagine the future Andrew, completing his GCSEs and EBaccs in 2020. He will, as above, proceed to A levels in 2022 and then his law degree. His degree, post LETR, will assess his legal knowledge, skills and attributes under the new framework. However, his degree will look very similar to the LLB on offer in 2002; jurisprudence will still be compulsory, as will a final year dissertation. However, he will have to make up a skills deficit because, unlike some universities that will blend the day one outcome skills into the knowledge requirements (in a two year degree), his university – which has an excellent global reputation nonetheless – does not. He will therefore be delighted to take up a place on an intensive, digital, international, simulated law module for a few months after graduation which will enable him to prepare for the period of supervised practice. He will be admitted as a solicitor in 2026.

The future Julia will also do GCSEs and EBaccs in 2020 and will also get a job as an assistant receptionist, in a firm which offers legal advice, as well as other professional services. At the moment, we call that an ABS (but for how long can it possibly be called an alternative business structure, rather than the norm?). Her human resources and training manager will appraise Julia and will encourage her to take CILEX levels 3 and 6. Supported by her employers and regularly monitored in her achievement of the (work based learned) outcomes for legal practice, she will have all but a few of her required outcomes to be a solicitor within six years. She will need a few more though, and her local university will offer her a place in their programme of legal services outcomes training, which they used to call the LPC. She will get day release from work and will study conveyancing and professional ethics on a Friday morning (in a class consisting of trainee solicitors and trainee licensed conveyancers) and advocacy on a Friday afternoon alongside the budding barristers. She will be admitted as a solicitor in 2026.

The future Stephen will also get work as a clerical assistant in an insurance firm, but he will also pick up additional credit studying online, one MOOC after another. When he tells his boss how much he enjoys this during his annual appraisal, he will be encouraged (and the firm will pay) for him to take one of the many online law courses available on the internet. It will take seven years for him to get all the “knowledge” required for the day one outcomes to be a solicitor. He knows, though, he will need to pass assessments in “skills” and “attributes” too, which rely on real life or simulated legal practice. So he will volunteer at law centres and charities; he will enrol on his local university's pro bono clinic rota; he will be delighted when he lands a brief online internship with an online law firm and will do work for them at the weekends for several months; he will even use some of his annual leave to do some legal work for one of the insurance company's clients. His will be a mixed portfolio, but he will be able, over 20 years, to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes to be admitted as a solicitor. Yes, it will take time and he will be in his mid-30s by the time he qualifies, but bear in mind that he and his partner will become adoptive parents in 2032 and will have to take time away from work to raise their daughter.

I know this isn't reality yet, but it could be. It is not dumbing down access to the legal professions, it is improving it. It is not about dumbing down the content, but maintaining standards whilst improving access. But it will succeed if, and this is the huge caveat, if the day one outcomes are:

-          reflective of actual legal practice;

-          meaningful without being too vague;

-          assessable; and

-          at the right standard.

Last thought. I wonder if in four years we will look back at this post and think, "Wow, it was a reasonable guess for its day, but look at how we work/learn now, and haven't technology and learning systems come a long way since 2013?"

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