Westminster Legal Policy Forum

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Next steps for legal education and training in England and Wales

Morning, Tuesday, 29th June 2021


***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will assess the future of legal education and training in England and Wales, as well as ongoing competence in the profession.


It will be an opportunity for discussion at a time of significant changes in the pathways to qualification for solicitors and barristers, with the new SQE system and new bar training courses.


Delegates will assess progress and unresolved issues since their introduction, and look ahead to what the new courses mean for law as an attractive and accessible profession, as well as their prospects for supporting the development of new skills needed for the future.


We are pleased to be able to include a keynote session with Julie Brannan, Director, Education and Training, Solicitors Regulation Authority; and Chris Nichols, Director of Policy and Regulation, Legal Services Board; as well as contributions from the Bar Standards Board; BARBRI International; the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx); City Law School; the Criminal Bar Association; the Legal Services Consumer Panel; Mishcon de Reya and Free School Meals Club; MOSAIC Collective; Queen Mary University of London; Reed Smith; Simpson Millar; and the University of Law.


Overall, areas for discussion include:

  • the new qualification route for solicitors and new barrister training courses
  • expanding routes to professional engagement and supporting progression 
  • ongoing competence in the legal profession

The agenda

  • The state of play for legal education and training and key priorities for ongoing competence in the profession
  • Next steps for academic qualifications - the introduction of the SQE and recent changes to the BPTC
  • Improving access to the profession, alternative routes to qualification, and entry into the job market
  • Facilitating effective continued professional development across the legal profession

The discussion in detail:

The new qualification route for solicitors:

  • challenges in design - with multiple choice assessments and practical legal skills tests covering client interviews, advocacy, case analysis and legal research
  • opportunities - the potential for course providers to adapt to the new qualification more easily, as well as to increase remote learning and the number of online education providers offering on-demand and fast-track courses
  • assessment - reform to the system for solicitor training, and its implications for modernising examination methods and improving access for prospective lawyers
  • fees - looking at their cost effectiveness, with exam fees set at £3,980 before the addition of provider training costs

New barrister training courses:

  • operation - early indications on how the courses are operating
  • flexibility - whether changes will succeed in making courses more flexible, accessible, and more widely affordable
  • benefits and uptake - of the newly approved pathways to becoming a barrister, including integrated academic and vocational training, and through apprenticeship

Expanding routes to professional engagement:

  • education - solicitor apprenticeships, and supporting legal education at secondary school and sixth form level, as well as improving the attractiveness of the legal profession as a career option
  • adaptation and accessibility - accommodating changing learning habits
  • industry training - growth and improvement during student studies
  • promoting diversity - and supporting the inclusion of disadvantaged groups

Progression:

  • support - preparing aspiring barristers and solicitors for competitive appraisal and selection processes
  • remuneration - options for improving the level of trainee salaries

Ongoing competence in the legal profession:

  • regulation:
    • considering early findings from the LSB’s ongoing work, which is looking at whether the legal regulators have the appropriate frameworks in place to ensure professional competence throughout the careers of those that they regulate
    • assessing how competence is currently measured in the sector
  • ensuring competence - whether the current status quo should remain in place, and potential new approaches, with the legal profession having no regular formal assessment of professionals, unlike in other professions, such as medicine
  • meeting the needs of consumers - whether consumers currently receive enough guidance on what to expect from legal services, and what further checks could be put in place to ensure public confidence

The background:

  • the new SQE system - with its final design now approved by the Legal Services Board, and which will be assessed through a single, broad exam rather than permitting student electives, and require a minimum of two years qualifying work experience (QWE)
    • introduction - to be implemented in September 2021 to replace the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC)
    • aims - consistent evaluation across all academic solicitor training routes, increasing competition and innovation in universities, and widening access to the legal profession
    • approval by the LSB last October - following an extension to the initial 28-day decision period to allow further enquiries, with its assessment concluding that changes should have a positive impact on regulatory objectives set out in the 2007 Legal Services Act
    • structure - with SQE1 testing legal principles via multiple choice assessments, and SQE2 assessing practical legal skills such as advocacy and interviewing
    • concerns - including that the absence of course loans could undermine the objective of improving access to legal education and social mobility
  • identified concerns - which the SRA is required to address, including:
    • monitoring the impact of the SQE, and conducting a review within two years of its implementation
    • investigating underlying reasons why candidates from some protected minority backgrounds underperformed in SQE pilots
    • publishing guidance for students on the different SQE training options available, as well as performance data for SQE assessments, in order to demonstrate transparency
    • additional safeguards around QWE to prevent poor treatment of candidates, and further details regarding enforcement for candidates and firms
  • bar training courses:
    • the introduction this academic year of courses approved by the Bar Standards Board from a number of academic providers
    • intended as an alternative pathway to being called to the Bar, and expected to be offered by more providers in the future
  • ongoing competence in the legal profession - with the Legal Services Board (LSB) currently undertaking work to look at approaches to assuring competence throughout a legal career aimed at understanding if there are any gaps in the system, or areas of concern to be addressed
    • the LSB is expecting to publish its work prior to the seminar, and open a formal consultation in the second half of this year

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from BEIS; the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport; the Department of Education; the Government Equalities Office; the Government Legal Department; HM Revenue & Customs; and the Ministry of Justice.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from legal institutions and examination boards, professional training bodies and legal service providers, universities and legal academics, local government, charities and consumer groups, together with reporters from the national and specialist media.


This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conferenc



Keynote Speakers

Chris Nichols

Director of Policy and Regulation, Legal Services Board

Julie Brannan

Director, Education and Training, Solicitors Regulation Authority

Keynote Speakers

Chris Nichols

Director of Policy and Regulation, Legal Services Board

Julie Brannan

Director, Education and Training, Solicitors Regulation Authority

Chairs

Sir Robert Neill MP

Chair, Justice Select Committee

Lord Brennan QC

Senior Associate Member of Matrix Chambers

Speakers

Sarah Chambers

Chair, Legal Services Consumer Panel

Alisa Gray

Director of Learning, BARBRI International

Rita McGucken

Head of Learning and Development, Simpson Millar

Natasha Pearman

Managing Associate, Mishcon de Reya and Founder, Free School Meals Club

Ray Clare

Training Design Team Leader, College of Policing

Mark Neale

Director General, Bar Standards Board

Jo Sidhu QC

Vice-Chair, Criminal Bar Association

Katrina Watson

Learning and Development Senior Manager, Reed Smith

Linda Ford

Chief Executive Officer, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx)

Professor Nigel Spencer

Professor in Education Innovation and Professional Practice, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London

Professor Peter Crisp

Pro Vice-Chancellor, External, University of Law

James Catchpole

Associate Dean (Postgraduate and Professional Degree Programmes), City Law School