The first full-scale review of legal education in 25 years has called for greater flexibility and a stronger partnership between law schools and professional bodies.
New entry and exit points should be created on the road to professional status, including a common training stage for would-be solicitors and barristers leading to a new qualification, says the first report of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Training.
The report suggests that trainee lawyers need a broader preparation to enter an increasingly competitive and diverse jobs market. This can only be achieved by providing greater depth in basic legal knowledge, coupled with training in generic skills and common professional values, it adds.
The committee calls for a review of funding for law courses and student maintenance to support its proposals. Under the proposals, the initial stage of education would be the law degree, along with the existing conversion course for non-law graduates and special routes for mature candidates. Law degrees should include the study of legal subjects for at least two years full-time, or its part-time equivalent, rather than the current minimum of 50 per cent of a three-year course. Conversion courses would also involve more study of legal subjects.
The report says a 15-18 week period of common professional studies should follow the initial stage. This would lead to the award of a new licentiate in professional legal studies. The requirements of the licentiate could be built into four-year degrees or a new master's degree in professional legal studies, giving students exemption to that stage of training.
After the licentiate, the student would move on to take a truncated version of the legal practice course for trainee solicitors or the bar vocational course for barristers. Following this would be a first module of in-service training, involving six months working in any approved legal practice, and then a second module which would be either a training contract with a solicitor's firm or a pupillage with a barrister.
Although the proposed new regime may seem a marathon, the committee says that it is no longer than the present training for barristers and six months shorter than that for solicitors.