Masters in legal studies proposed

July 7, 1995

A broader and more intellectually rigorous approach to vocational training for lawyers that could usher in a new master's programme, has been proposed by the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee on legal education.

In a consultation paper launched last week the committee says there should be more common elements in the education and training of barristers and solicitors, and a greater emphasis on intellectual skills in postgraduate vocational programmes.

Changes in the legal profession and the world of work mean law students will need to be prepared for a much wider range of careers than at present, the paper says.

They will need multiple routes of entry into and exit from the road to professional qualification. They will also need to have a broader understanding of the law and the intellectual confidence to tackle the unfamiliar.

The committee suggests that the vocational stage of legal education provided by the Bar vocational course for would-be barristers and the legal practice course for budding solicitors, should be revised to provide more common elements of study and adjust the balance between the teaching of skills, values and knowledge. It suggests a new master's programme in common professional legal studies taught at, or accredited by, universities.

This could be done through a one-year full-time course or a common vocational course lasting six to nine months, followed by a mixture of on-the-job and off-the-job training.

Other options include evolving common elements in the two courses; a top-up course during the training contract or pupillage stage; a four-year law degree covering material in the courses; or a three-year route incorporating academic and office training.

The paper also stresses the need for as many satisfactory exit points from legal training as possible, to help students find their way around the current bottleneck in training opportunities. It also calls for a better student financial support system in legal training, through loans, scholarships, a training levy or partnership funding between local authorities, institutions and law firms, to avoid access to the profession reverting to its "traditional unrepresentative nature".

The committee has asked for responses to its proposals, which are part of a wider review of legal education and training, by September 30.

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