Finding the right balance

By Tim Pearce, SRA Policy Executive, 22 November 2013

A well-attended T4T session at Bristol last night saw a lively debate, with many issues raised by the practitioners, trainees and legal education providers who attended. Many of the issues facing T4T were discussed in depth, and a key theme that emerged was one of balance. For instance, attendees explored the idea of a new competence standard for qualification as a solicitor, including discussion of the list of key skills from the Cardiff Roadshows. Such a standard, it was felt, must not be a mere headline list, but must provide critical, focused description of each key skill area—but that on the other hand, too much detail can create a formalistic, tick-box approach. Finding the right balance, it was felt, needs not just further research but active dialogue between the SRA and the legal and training communities. The need to define the right level of the standard is emerging as a theme across all the Roadshows.

Another balancing act was highlighted in relation to CPD. Attendees felt that the SRA needs to lead the profession away from a "compliance mentality" to CPD, and to help the profession focus on the professional development and improvements to legal services that CPD is meant to achieve. But at the same time a scheme needs to be enforceable and measurable. Teasing out the issues around the current hours-based system, many at Bristol felt that while 16 hours was a measure, that did not mean that it amounts to a standard. Attendees looked forward to how these issues will be handled in the SRA's CPD consultation which will be published next year.

Tim Pearce at the Bristol T4T Roadshow

Tim Pearce at the Bristol T4T Roadshow

Attendees showed a strong concern to increase the diversity and inclusiveness of the profession, and discussed the ways in which the SRA can play an active part. Many attendees felt that would-be solicitors need much better information on the actual chances of achieving their ambitions, and debated whether it should fall primarily to the SRA or to education providers to inform students.

Interestingly, some individuals felt that the degree-level pathway is inclusive, in that the student loan system and flexible learning has, in their view, made degrees relatively accessible and the qualification does provide a universal standard of knowledge. Do you agree—or do you think that the current SRA emphasis on a degree as the foundation of pathways to qualification is narrow and potentially elitist? Let us know by posting your comments below, or tweet us using #srat4t.