Having been invited to speak at the Trainee and Newly Qualified Society’s (TANQ) summer social, Rob Marrs, our Head Education, reflects on the event's key content and encourages all new lawyers to get involved.
One of the rules of life in the law is that everyone has an opinion on legal education. They remember the good, the bad, and the ugly of their own route to qualification. Many within the profession continue to be involved in legal education throughout their working life – hundreds of solicitors across Scotland assist in the delivery of the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice, after all.
Given that pretty much everyone has a view on legal education, I always enjoy events where it is discussed. I was delighted when I was asked to speak at The Trainee and Newly Qualified Society’s (TANQ) summer social. Before the wine was cracked open, there was to be a panel debate: ‘Legal Education: Fit for purpose?'
Alongside me were Christine O’Neill, of Brodies, Professor Stewart Brymer, of Brymer Legal, and Sheriff Cameron. Whilst I walked up to the Royal Faculty feeling optimistic, I’ll admit I was nervous. These are three people who reached the top of the legal tree and I was very aware that they know more about law and the legal life than I do. I tried to approach the evening with Epictetus’s maxim in mind: ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.’
I’ll also admit I was preparing myself to be the pantomime villain of the affair. I did not know my fellow speakers’ views but half-expected to have to stand up and wearily defend the status quo whilst all around me were aiming their guns at it.
Happily, that was not the case. The other speakers outlined their glittering career paths and explained their views on the current state of legal education. Whilst they urged that complacency must be guarded against, and whilst all acknowledged that the current system could be improved upon (in some areas significantly), all agreed that the system was producing high-quality new lawyers. Two said ‘yes’ and one said ‘a qualified yes’.
The question and answer session was enjoyably robust stuff. Unsurprisingly, a number of the queries came to me as ‘the man from the Law Society’. There were exchanges on Diploma numbers (and the cost of the Diploma), other career opportunities for law graduates, challenges around securing training contracts, social mobility, whether trainees should be allowed to appear in court earlier, and much more besides.
Perhaps the most interesting question was on the recommended rate of remuneration for trainees because it allowed my fellow speakers a chance to explain in detail the economics of private practice with a particular focus on the high street and criminal defence.
The pleasing aspect for me was that the audience was large and that so many of the audience asked questions and engaged. Professor Brymer at one point encouraged them all to get involved in the discussions about changes to legal education (and to the profession more widely).
I’d agree. We recently ran a consultation on the alternative route to qualification. This might lead to the creation of some form of entirely work-based route to qualification that would sit alongside the ‘standard’ route (LLB, DPLP, traineeship). We got about 50 high-quality responses from firms, in-house teams and individuals. That isn’t bad, but from a profession of over 11,000 it isn’t stellar.
Those organisations and individuals are helping shape that route. As President Bartlet put it, ‘decisions are made by the people who show up’. I’d encourage all new lawyers to take note of President Bartlet’s point, follow the advice of Professor Brymer, and get involved in the discussions which will shape the future of the profession.