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Richard Moorhead, UCL Professor of Law and Professional Ethics, considers possible routes of change for legal education in the UK and the tensions between study and practice in the current system.
Let’s take the SRA proposals. They will, in theory, allow total freedom over the content of the law degree. The current Qualifying Law Degree (QLD) requires a significant degree of rigidity, and one response to that rigidity is to get all the core courses out of the way straight away. Once the QLD goes, if it goes, there is room for fresh thinking. Practice needs to find ways of interesting academia in its concerns rather than saying things, such as, you need to teach contract later. In particular, practice has to get academics interested in researching in areas of common interest. Take contract, for example. There is an emerging body of work looking at how law firms draft contracts and how they might influence behaviour. Get more academics doing that and they will teach better contract courses.
The barriers to change are historical, cultural, and regulatory. Regulatory change has the potential to reduce the barriers if done sensibly. Practice does not always understand the education and research mission of universities. Some sneer at the latter and see the former as an indulgence—this is mostly based on a shallow understanding of what really goes on in university and why. Equally, academia needs to understand practice better too and can sharpen up its act on a number of fronts. Practice creates and manages knowledge in ways law schools can’t. There is a lot of chaotic experience in practice that academics could work on with you given the right relationships and opportunities. We have a lot to learn from each other and need to learn to work together better.
I expect a bit of this. Some schools will go down this route with gusto but such an approach is not among the most inspiring of ideas about the future of legal education. University is not a trade school. If we think about the future of legal practice, we see intersections between law and business, psychology, technology and data science. Educational models that equip lawyers to understand these things are likely to be much more exciting, interesting and beneficial to society, their clients, and their employers ultimately.
This is unlikely. It is command and control regulation of a rather backward-looking kind. Most law schools want to and do run clinics. Compulsion is a red herring.
Incorporating languages and business models are ideas from the eighties. The latter has more mileage than the former in terms of really thinking about the intersections between law and business but in reality the two domains are usually taught separately without producing much genuinely fresh thinking about legal practice.
Interviewed by Bridget O’Connell.
The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.
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