The Education and Training Committee is starting to make major policy announcements in the wake of its survey, and solicitors need to be aware of what the future might hold

Many readers will have logged a response to the consultation on the future shape of education and training which ran between November 2006 and February 2007. From the planning stage onwards, we were aware that the “cradle to grave” approach we were taking meant that there was the potential for the consultation to become the largest research and evidence gathering exercise ever undertaken by the Law Society of Scotland. With the consultation being delivered by means of an online platform, awareness was on a truly international scale, with comments on the “leading edge” nature of it being received from as far afield as New Zealand.

Comprehensive engagement

And what of the results, you may ask? We are delighted to report that we received around 900 responses to the main questionnaire and some 200 responses to the detailed questionnaires – a much higher rate of response than we might have expected. Particularly heartening was 13 of the largest private practice providers of traineeship working together to submit a joint response on key issues. Between them these firms currently train around a third of Scotland’s solicitors, and their data were in addition to the figures mentioned above.

We also had a strong response from organisations such as the Scottish Consumer Council, allowing us, where appropriate, to address their concerns from the start. Our heartfelt thanks are due to all who took the time to share their views. This represents an unprecedented level of engagement with an education and training project in Scotland and we believe it represents a growing awareness that education and training issues are integral to the future of the profession.

Since the close of the consultation, we have undertaken detailed analysis of both the statistical response and of the extensive, well informed and constructive free text responses. The Education and Training Committee met in two full-day meetings to analyse the results, to consider the key themes emerging from the data and to start to develop policy positions on many key areas which will influence the final recommendations.

Framework approach

We have already been fielding the odd question asking whether anything is likely to change. Once final approval is gained, observers may not witness an immediate revolution, but the new policy will open up huge potential for change and the profession will undoubtedly witness evolutionary development of exciting new models in the coming years. We will be focusing on establishing a clear framework of exacting but meaningful standards to ensure the continuation and further development of a rigorous and respected route to qualification, founded on building a closer working relationship between the Council, the profession and key partners.

So what does this mean in practice? Clearly, the setting of standards is key to the future shape of education and training, as it is in so many facets of the Society’s remit. The Education and Training Committee is clear in its aim that the system should be a framework of standards in relation to content, assessment methods and accreditation.

Providers’ initiatives

It is entirely possible that, in future, the route to qualification may no longer be the “one size fits all” LLB, Diploma and traineeship we have all come to know. Having stated this, it is important to point out that the future is not about the Society setting up different schemes, but about us allowing providers to construct alternative routes within a framework that sets and monitors the standards to be attained. As a result students are presented with greater flexibility in their route to qualification and providers are offered the opportunity to innovate.

The debate on the purpose of the law degree – general “liberal arts” degree preparing for a variety of careers, or vocational course as part of a lawyer’s training – is likely to continue to run. We believe that it is possible to combine academic excellence with an outstanding preparation for practice. The Education and Training Committee favour more emphasis on a comparative dimension in the teaching and assessment of law, firmly rooting the Scottish position within the UK/EU/international law setting. We also believe that greater integration of the strands of law is desirable, relating the teaching more closely to how a client problem may present in a real life situation. The committee supports a more focused core to legal education, a core that will act as building blocks, with less focus on individual subjects and more emphasis on, for example, areas of law which pervade a range of practice.

Traineeship and CPD

The consultation results revealed strong support for authorisation of firms taking trainees, and for the requirement to have a training partner with the necessary skills and experience to supervise traineeships. It has long seemed anomalous that all stages of training except the in-office period were subject to some form of accreditation. Of course, it has also been acknowledged that it will be necessary to support firms through the process. The initial stages of any scheme of authorisation will see the drawing together of current requirements into a more consistent package, with a light touch move to authorisation.

While there was support in the consultation for the concepts discussed in relation to CPD, the committee has acknowledged the need for further in-depth exploration of the concepts, including the length of the CPD cycle, the issue of “credits” with different values for different CPD activities, accreditation of providers and particular CPD requirements for different careers stages. One thing is certain, however: the current approach to CPD is unlikely to continue.

Five pronged approach

The next stage of the process will involve the construction of detailed project plans for each of five agreed work streams:

  • the content of the foundation programme (equivalent to the present LLB stage);
  • an accreditation regime for the foundation programme;
  • the content of the combined professional education and training stages (mapping to the present Diploma and traineeship);
  • an accreditation regime for this stage; and
  • a framework for continuing competence and ongoing development (in other words the structure of solicitors’ continuing professional development).

We intend to move forward swiftly with these projects and produce a “white paper” style document, setting out key policy considerations, the detail of proposals for each stage and a discussion of implementation work by the end of 2007.

Effective communication will be one of the keys to successful implementation. Arrangements are being made to meet with key stakeholders. We will update the website (www.lawscot.org.uk/training/consult) as projects progress. We are heading into an exciting and challenging time for education and training. We hope you share our enthusiasm and excitement. As ever, constructive views and feedback are welcome to the email addresses below.

Liz Campbell, Director (Education and Training): lizcampbell@lawscot.org.uk

Neil Stevenson, Deputy Director (Education and Training): neilstevenson@lawscot.org.uk

Christine McLintock, Convener, Education and Training Committee

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