As the new academic year opens, with perhaps record numbers of students opting for law, the very medium they are studying is up for grabs. They are standing on shifting sands.
Not that this need worry any students starting now. They will probably have long graduated from university before any decisions are taken and may have finished their professional qualifications before any new system is put in place. The Lord Chancellor's advisory committee's review hopes to complete its report of the law degree and professional qualifications by early 1996.
But the six pillars of legal wisdom – soon to become seven if the Law Society and Bar Council proposals for the addition of European law to degree course are accepted – are under scrutiny. Should we have a different type of law degree not concerned so much with reams of law, but with giving greater understanding of how to get to grips with and how to use the law? Who should decide what the law degree consists of? Is this the role of the academics, subject to some outside monitoring? Or should the professions lay down what they will accept as the minimum requirements for entry?
The debate about conversion courses and mixed degrees (as students are finding it is possible to do law "with everything") will highlight how much law lawyers need to have. Is the one-year conversion course for non-law graduates a back-door way of circumventing the rigours of a degree course, as Professor Birks argues elsewhere on this page? Employers say that those doing CPEs bring a broader perspective to practice.
The debate takes place in a cash vacuum and no additional public funding will be available.
The other funding question, that of providing for students for the professional stage, grows more acute each year and with fewer signs of any solutions emerging. Is this question drifting closer to the doorstep of both sides of the profession? If so, what answers do they have?