Reforming Legal Education: Death of the Training Contract
From The Law Gazette 24/02/10:
Could a new holistic approach to training solicitors, being trialed by Northumbria University Law School in partnership with national firm Irwin Mitchell, be the future of legal education?
The Master of Law (Solicitor) degree combines the academic, vocational and training stages of qualification as a solicitor. At the end of the full-time, five-year degree course graduates can apply to the SRA for enrolment as a solicitor.
The course, made possible by an SRA initiative and designed to pilot work-based learning as a means of increasing access to the legal profession, incorporates a qualifying law degree with the legal practice course and work-based learning replacing the training contract.
Increasing access to the profession is no doubt important in the light of recent surveys that have revealed the legal profession to be drawn from increasingly narrow sections of society, but could this new form of qualification create a two-tier system in which some are regarded as inferior?
Or will this route catch on and herald the end of the training contract?
It’s not just fears of creating a two-tier structure with one seen as inferior to the other but this throws up a range of other issues, too. For instance, how exactly does the vocational element work and how is performance in that stage of it best assessed? How are positions allocated: do a range of firms essentially sign up to offer placements to candidates and they’re taken on a first-come, first-served basis? What if they later withdraw? At what stage in the process is a position on the vocational element of the course allocated?
And this kind of degree is absolutely fine for those who have their career plans mapped out nicely from the start but what about those who think they’ll love the practice of law only to find they wish to pursue academic law? For me, there are question marks over the interchangeability of the constituent elements of the degree – are they subject to the same credit transfer rules, particularly once the student has partially completed the vocational stage?
Also, I’m presuming this is an optional means of qualifying. To allow the legal education system sufficient flexibility and fairness it should only be seen as another way of qualifying – not THE way. One advantage of the current building-block system is that students have a plethora of options available to actively pick and choose and shape their legal education and career as they see fit.
Many students experience a change of heart during their degrees and often wind up doing different things from what they ever imagined.
I’m all for reforming legal education but I’m just not convinced this is the right way to go about it.