The Law Society is proposing a radical reorganisation of legal education that could see the end of popular - and, for universities, highly lucrative - law courses.
The future of the obligatory vocational Legal Practice Course (LPC) and even the qualifying law degree, the LLB, is uncertain under proposals from the Law Society, which regulates legal training.
The proposals, to go to the Law Society's council this month, will introduce a tough new assessment to judge students' knowledge and skills.
This will be taken as a final qualifying exam.
There will be no set route to this qualification, no prescribed courses such as the LPC, although students will have to do a period of work-based training to acquire the necessary skills.
The proposals have been met with howls of protest from universities. Twenty law schools have signed a petition saying that they have not been consulted.
Two members of the Law Society's training framework review group, which drew up the proposals over a three-year period, filed a minority report saying that the proposals will undermine standards.
Phil Knott, of Nottingham Law School and one of the authors of the minority report, said: "I would prefer to keep the current system as a benchmark and then allow flexibility around it."
Nigel Savage, chief executive of the College of Law, said: "These proposals will see the end of legal education as we know it and could lead to a free-for-all with no proper quality controls.
"It will destroy work done in recent years in building up links between academia, the vocational stage of legal education and the profession.
"For universities this is a standards not a financial issue."
Alan Paterson, president of the Society of Legal Scholars, said: "We welcome the Law Society's commitment to diversity and flexibility but have concerns about other aspects, in particular whether there is sufficient quality assurance in what is proposed."
He said that there was a danger that students would be put through "crammers".
This week, Janet Paraskeva, the Law Society's chief executive, launched a strong defence of the proposals. "There has been a lot of misrepresentation as to what all this is about," she said.
She added that the current system was so expensive and prescriptive that potentially good solicitors were facing too many hurdles. She described it as "outmoded, expensive and possibly discriminatory".
In particular, she described the LPC, which can cost students up to Pounds 9,000, as a "straightjacket" and the society's "key concern".
She said that the "outcomes-based" approach would guarantee quality. "We need to test students on their skills, not on whether they have completed a particular course," she said.
According to Ms Paraskeva, the current approach, which involves an academic stage (a degree), a vocational stage (the LPC) and a training contract, could remain the norm for most students.
She said that detailed arrangements for assessing students and trainees still had to be hammered out, acknowledging that the work-based requirements would put a strain on employers who already could not provide enough training contracts. The Law Society intends to consult on these proposals over the next two months.
In all, just under 15,000 students enrolled on law degrees this academic year, making it one of the most popular undergraduate degrees. About 9,000 students take the LPC.