Radical proposals for a new legal education system, announced last week by advisers to the Lord Chancellor's Department, have met with mixed reactions from lawyers and academics.
The introduction of a common element of training for solicitors and barristers which would increase the number of training stages for lawyers was generally welcomed. But an extension to the length of the CPE would stifle equal opportunities, said commentators, by discouraging students with limited financial resources.
The authors of the report, the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (Aclec), claimed that by including a common professional legal studies module lasting 15 weeks and shortening the length of the LPC and bar vocational course students would be able to springboard into other areas of the law or other professions.
The new system also proposes to shorten the length of training contracts and pupillages to a year or six months and includes a work experience element to be taken before the completion of academic training. This would result in an overall shortening of legal training from six to five years.
Richard King, head of education and training at City firm Herbert Smith and chair of the Legal Education Training Group, said: “I think solicitors will support a common training with the bar. As it stands the CPE has served the profession well and it would be a shame to make it financially and academically more difficult for non-law graduates to enter the profession.”
However, a spokesman for the Bar said that the “scope for a common course” was “limited”. While there was room for a modular course, he added that the skills of “top class advocates” were different than those of “office lawyers” and had different training needs.
Simon Baker, chair of the Law Society training committee, welcomed the debate on legal education which would be initiated by the report.
But he said that the committee would urge Aclec to look at continuing professional development, an area which had not been considered in the report, and also ensure clients and client representative groups be joined in the discussion.
Aclec has made it clear its proposals are not a blueprint for change but a way of initiating further debate.