Outline of the changes to legal education and training, now nearing implementation, which will impact on all solicitors

At the Society AGM in May this year, the Education and Training Committee announced plans to change how solicitors become solicitors and how, once qualified, they maintain their professional standards.

That paper, circulated to the profession, contained the high-level policy changes. This was essentially half time in our project. The next phase, which we are currently working on, is the exciting and arguably the most challenging one and will culminate with the launch of the new framework in September 2011.

In short, it means making it all happen!

The journey so far

Getting to the stage of publishing the AGM paper was a thorough and wide-ranging process. The Society evaluated the system of legal education we have, and researched other jurisdictions’ and professions’ routes to qualification, following trends and adapting innovation in higher education generally.

Of course, the most public element of this work was the three consultations on all aspects of legal education, training and CPD. The response to the initial consultation was the largest in the Society’s history, and remains the highest response level to an education and training issue. In our Journal article of October 2006, we said: “solicitors have traditionally taken less direct involvement in education of future solicitors than members of other professions”. Happily, you proved us wrong – and there is still scope for involvement from the profession in various aspects between now and the implementation date of September 2011.

The spirit of the project has been one of inclusiveness. Throughout the consultation phases we wanted as many responses as possible – from solicitors, from students and trainees, from public and client representative bodies, from members of the public. And we are still advertising for working party members on areas such as CPD and trainee CPD – see panel.

Why change?

Even the most cursory glance at successful sports teams or businesses shows that just because something works well does not mean that it will always continue to work well or, more pertinently, that it cannot be improved on. Many in the profession felt there were areas of legal education and training that needed reformed – making sure that pre-qualification stages joined up more obviously and, at the end of qualification, newly qualified solicitors were at the standard the profession needs.

Who does this affect?

As you can see, the scope of the project is huge. Rather than approach each element of legal education separately, we have taken a cradle-to-grave (or perhaps matriculation-to-retirement) approach, and these changes will affect and benefit everyone from those sitting their Highers with dreams of becoming a lawyer, to managing partners at large firms. Those studying to become lawyers will be better equipped to excel in the profession, and those within the profession will find the new CPD regime will meet their needs and do what it says on the tin – develop their professional skills and abilities.

We believe that our reforms will help make sure that the public has absolute faith in the legal profession, and feels confident in it and able to access it when they need to.

So what are the key changes?

  • Pre-qualification, the current system often focuses more on “time served” than on “skills gained”. The main change, therefore, to all three stages of pre-qualification (academic, vocational and work-based) will be a move towards learning outcomes. Students will be assessed on how well they meet these outcomes. These can be thought of as a blend of important transferable skills, the ability to understand key values and the ability to understand knowledge areas.
  •  This approach has a number of strengths. Those studying will be better equipped to excel when they do reach the workplace, and firms that take on graduates will benefit. Outcomes-based approaches to learning are standard across a number of other professions and we believe that they will be key to improving standards across the board. The universities that we work very closely with have been hugely on board with this move.
  •  As well as the move to outcomes-based learning, the academic element of legal education (currently LLB degree, or Law Society exams plus a three year pre-Diploma training contract) will be renamed the Foundation Programme. The new credit construction for the degree is designed to allow universities to build more flexibility into courses.
  •  The postgraduate stage, currently the Diploma in Legal Practice and the traineeship, will be re-categorised as Professional Education and Training Programme, or PEAT. Two major changes in this area are the introduction of outcomes which apply across both PEAT 1 and PEAT 2, in “professionalism, professional ethics and standards”, and “professional communication”. The two stages have never been linked in this way before and the link will provide real clarity across the two. The introduction of electives comprising half the course will change the face of the Diploma, as it offers choices to students.
  •  The work-based stage will see further major changes. The PCC will be discontinued, to be replaced with trainee CPD (TCPD). This is to set in stone the idea that CPD matters at the earliest stage. The development of TCPD will mean that trainees and training firms and organisations have more flexibility in how they comply with the requirements.
  •  The development of new techniques for PEAT 2 will assist training firms and organisations in articulating what the “qualifying solicitor is capable of”. We will also develop best practice guidelines for training and run a programme of “train the trainer” courses. 
  •  Finally, learning doesn’t and shouldn’t stop at the point of qualification and, as part of this root-and-branch review, continuing professional development will change. A good CPD structure is fundamental to a strong profession for a number of reasons. Most obviously CPD helps ensure that solicitors remain competent in their area of law. As well as this, solicitors that engage in CPD become more marketable and more risk-free – it is good for business to be highly trained, after all.
  •  The changes to CPD will include solicitors identifying their training needs in advance, undertaking the training and recording how they benefit from it. The emphasis on evaluation and reflection will help make the most of the time spent doing CPD.
  •  New guidelines will be developed for CPD, which will include details of what may count towards the CPD requirement, including a wider range of activities than at present. 
    There is a lot of work to do before the ‘’big bang’’ in September 2011, but we are confident that with the profession’s continued input and assistance the changes we are undertaking will make a massively positive difference to the way solicitors become solicitors. That will benefit us all – those studying, those practising and importantly the public at large.

Timescales

Between now and early 2011, the Society is committed to providing the profession with the practical information it needs to ensure this new system of legal education and training works. We  highlight here just some of our key dates, which you might like to diarise so you know when you can expect updates. Rest assured, we will make it our business to keep you up to speed – through CPD events, deans and faculty meetings, the work of the Representation and Professional Support group, and roadshows on the new framework.

The Education and Training team welcome constructive comment and questions on the proposals. Please email robmarrs@lawscot.org.uk


 

Events

Final suite of documents in relation to the practicalities of the new PEAT 2 and CPD distributed – January/February 2011

Full admission regulations come into force – September 2011

New Foundation (LLB) and PEAT 1 (Diploma) courses commence in universities across Scotland – September 2011

PEAT 2 rolled out for all training organisations in Scotland, with TCPD and PCC both deemed to be TCPD for transitional period for trainees qualifying up to September 2013 – September 2011

New CPD rules come into force – November 2011

For any trainee qualifying after September 2013, TCPD is the only option available as PCC is definitively discontinued – September 2013

 

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