Legal regulators launch major education and training review

The three biggest legal regulators, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards (IPS) are jointly to review legal services education and training in the regulated legal sector.

The core aims of the review are to ensure that the ethical standards and levels of competence of those delivering legal services in regulated law firms are sufficient to secure a high standard of service for clients, and to support the public interest and the rule of law. The review will build on and feed into the regulators' existing projects in this area.

Welcoming the review, SRA Chief Executive Antony Townsend said: "Ensuring that solicitors and others delivering legal services are properly educated and trained is just as important as making sure that firms and individuals conduct their businesses properly. The two areas of regulatory work are complementary and interdependent.

"Much of the recent focus of regulatory activity has been on reforming the structures for regulating legal businesses. This review will ensure that serious thought, based on thorough research and comprehensive consultation with all interested parties, is now given to education and training.

"We are delighted to be collaborating with the Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards on this review, and to have the support of the Legal Services Board. This is bound to produce a more holistic and informed outcome that takes account of the needs of clients and the perspectives of all regulated lawyers."

He added that the SRA will continue its work on work-based learning and its review of continuing professional development, with a view to incorporating findings as they emerge.

Ruth Deech, chairman of the Bar Standards Board, said: "We are pleased to be working with the SRA and IPS on this regulator-led review of legal education and training. We look forward to building on our previous evaluations of the Bar Professional Training Course and pupillage and our current work on the Continuing Professional Development requirements for barristers. The collaborative approach to this review will ensure a positive future for the legal profession."

IPS Chair, Alan Kershaw, said: "This is an important piece of work. IPS is keen to bring its unique contribution to the review and to work with all of the regulators to ensure that the competence and qualification standards of everyone providing legal services are appropriate to meet the needs of customers and the requirements of the Legal Services Act. It will bring together the work to determine how well the current arrangements will fit the new landscape, which individual regulators have already begun."

The review will examine:

  • The educational requirements placed upon individuals entering the sector (including programmes and pathways to professional qualification) and their regulatory function.
  • The requirements for continuing education for individuals and entities (including Continuing Professional Development, accreditation and other quality assurance schemes).
  • The requirements placed upon those delivering approved education to individuals and entities.

The following specific questions will be asked:

  • What should be the contribution of legal education and training to the delivery of the regulatory objectives set out in the Legal Services Act 2007, taking account of:
    • the likely shape of and demands on legal services by 2020 in the light of changing consumer/client demand, technological change and other factors,
    • the effects that the shape of legal services may have upon the legal and other skills demanded from different kinds of lawyers and others employed in legal services in the future,
    • the need for high quality, competitive legal services and education and training providers and high ethical standards for lawyers and legal services entities,
    • the need to promote social mobility and diversity,
    • forthcoming changes to the education sector and how these may affect legal education and training.
  • How might implementation of the Legal Services Act affect legal education and training?
  • To what extent (if any) should the formal regulation of legal education and training be extended to include groups other than those regulated by the Approved Regulators—for example, paralegals?
  • What can or should be done to address the issue of career development and mobility between branches of the legal profession?
  • What recommendations should be made to the Legal Services Board, the approved regulators and other bodies?

The regulators plan to appoint an external research team in February 2011. This review is expected to produce significant policy findings at various points before its conclusion.

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