LSB draft statutory guidance on legal education

A response to the LSB draft statutory guidance on legal education

The Training and Education Committee of the City of London Law Society (CLLS), of which I am a member, has just written a strongly worded response to the proposal by the Legal Services Board (LSB) to issue statutory guidance to the front line regulators, in our case the SRA, about legal education. In a world where most CLLS submissions start by welcoming the paper about which the submission is written, why would the CLLS ask for this one to be withdrawn?

Not all readers will know about the LSB.  It was created under the Legal Services Act to supervise the new “modified self regulation” of legal services professions recommended in the review conducted by Sir David Clementi.  It was very busy following the introduction of the new regime, but much less so now that the approved regulators are up and running (although it recently allowed the accountants to authorise legal services practitioners). It is body that approves (or not) new rules proposed by the front line regulators (such as the SRA for solicitors).

The CLLS felt that the LSB had no role in creating any new rules for legal education, unless the front line regulators were somehow failing in their jobs, and there is no evidence of that. Nor did it consult on whether it should issue new rules, which it should have done, but merely on the content of the new rules.

Critically, it dismissed the report of the massive Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) as just one piece of evidence.  The LETR is one of the most substantial reviews of legal education ever undertaken, anywhere.  So we felt that the LSB was misdirecting itself on the nature of evidence and failing to behave as a modern evidence-led regulator. In passing, we thought that the LETR report was well thought out and sensible, but not, of course, perfect.

We also had serious concerns about some of the proposed rules.  The CLLS has been a strong supporter of new ways for people to join the profession, including what are becoming known as “legal apprenticeships”. We entirely support the need for less burdensome and costly ways for people from all backgrounds to become solicitors.  We were not opposed to the aspirations of the LSB in this direction, although we had doubts whether its specific proposals would work.

But critically, as statute law fills up so many new volumes, and law becomes more complex and changes more rapidly, we feel it is no time to lower overall standards, or to educate people for specific roles only where such roles may not exist in a few years time.  We are also concerned that legal education should address ethics and all of the objectives set out in the Legal Services Act, not just some of them.  So we felt that the rather crude proposals of the LSB did not address the issues that face our member firms.  We compete head on with the elite of the world’s legal professions, very successfully, and a large part of the reason is the excellent training of our lawyers. We do not want to see that damaged.

The CLLS has had a good relationship with the LSB, and wants this to continue, so our hope is that our disagreement is only a blip. 

Allan Murray-Jones, partner, Skadden