The regulators have been looking at the rules governing training for lawyers have been under examination since Legal Education and Training Review report was published in 2013.
The SRA was first off the mark with its Training for Tomorrow review. It’s set out its statement of competence which sets out what it believes solicitors should be able to demonstrate in order to practise successfully. It’s currently consulting on the assessment framework to establish whether an aspiring solicitor demonstrates those competencies.
The consultation closes on 4 March 2016. The SRA is proposing that there should be two standard examinations which virtually everyone should have to take: one demonstrating knowledge, the other demonstrating skills. It’s aimed at providing a consistent means of assessing competence that doesn’t exist at the moment and of improving equality and diversity. For students, it’s a very important development and I’ll be exploring this further.
The BSB does not appear to be taking such a radical approach. However, it has established a Future Bar Training programme of work. Like the SRA, it has created a statement of competencies – the Professional Statement. It has also recently published a consultation on the Threshold Standards for Barristers entering the profession. It will be consulting on changes to pupillage and the Bar Professional Training Course in 2016 with a view to implementing the changes from autumn 2017.
It will be interesting to see how radical the changes are. The Bar has a major problem in terms of access to the profession because of the difficulties in obtaining a pupillage.
There are a number of particular concerns about the training arrangements for both solicitors and barristers:
- the standards of the different providers of vocational training courses are often thought to be inconsistent;
- teachers of law, particularly in the Russell Group universities are resistant to changes which may “dumb down” the academic content of courses in order to make them more relevant to practice;
- There is a major bottleneck at the practical training stage – not enough pupillages or training contracts to go round – which, arguably, restricts the market;
- The diversity of those recruited to pupillages and training courses does not match the diversity of those applying;
- There are variations in standards of practical training – very few people fail.
I’ll be examining all these issues on these pages.