The Law Society said this week it was concerned about a growing number of clients suing lawyers for professional negligence over a failure to consider European Union law in pursuit of a case. This is putting law schools under pressure to increase their coverage of EU law on degree and professional updating courses.
Worries have been fuelled by the results of a European Commission survey showing that two-thirds of member state lawyers feel their knowledge of EU law is inadequate. The findings, based on interviews with 635 lawyers from all EU countries, place Britain in the middle of a league table of EU law ignorance.
The European Commission is preparing to produce recommendations to address each member state's shortcomings in the area of EU law education. Law Society officials say that important steps are already being taken to ensure British law courses equip students with the necessary knowledge of European law.
The society's training committee has agreed a framework for setting up courses leading to diplomas in a range of subjects, including EU law. From next academic year, European law is expected to become a compulsory part of all law courses. By the following year, students who cannot demonstrate a sound understanding of EU law will be barred from joining a legal practice course.
But some training heads and academics believe even these measures may not be enough to protect the profession from a significant drain on its indemnity funds caused by negligence cases.
Roger Jones, chairman of the Law Society's training committee, said more needed to be done in the area of continuing professional development. From 1998, all solicitors will be required to update their knowledge, but there is nothing yet to say that this must include European law.