Tuesday 25 June 2013 by Catherine Baksi
Training for barristers and solicitors is almost certain to remain separate following the Legal Education and Training Review's rejection of the idea of a common professional course.
While noting that the gap between what some solicitors and barristers do has narrowed thanks to higher rights and public access, today's report says that reforms to the Bar Professional Training Course and LPC have tended to increase the divergence of training.
Its research data found 'quite a high level of resistance' from some quarters of the profession even to the notion of complementary or inter-professional training, such as module-sharing.
Slightly over 40% of barristers offered some support for 'greater common training across the LPC/BPTC', compared with nearly 70% of solicitors.
The report says the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry proposed a 'more radical approach' with common training as part of a more integrated process akin to an apprenticeship model.
However the report says that although common training might create 'some limited economies of scale or scope', it is not clear that it would significantly reduce the cost, and could lengthen it for some.
While common training could help enhance quality in some areas, for example advocacy training for solicitors, the report says the change would risk some loss of specialisation or a reduction to a common core in others, particularly for the bar.
As with the other areas of legal education, the report is satisfied with the standard of the training given to barristers through the BPTC and the pupillage, despite mixed opinions from its research: 39% of barristers said the course was fit for purpose, while 31% said it was not.
Pupillage was also seen as good thing - 58% of barristers 'completely' disagreed with its abolition. Despite the number of debt-ridden students finishing bar school without pupillage, the report does not recommend that students taking the BPTC secure a pupillage before doing so.
However it recommends that the BPTC place more emphasis on the skills needed for alternative dispute resolution, particularly mediation advocacy, and that advocacy training in general should pay greater attention to preparing advocates to appear against litigants in person.
It questions the efficacy of aptitude tests, such as that now being undertaken by the Bar Standards Board, saying it is 'uncertain' they enhance entry standards.
The report notes the resistance to prescribed CPD, saying that mandated schemes are seen by some members of the bar and others as 'infantilising'. According to the report, they argue 'professionals do not need to be told to do CPD; learning and researching are integral to the role'.
The director of the Bar Standards Board, Dr Vanessa Davies, said she was pleased that the LETR report recognises the good standard of the present system, but said it identifies 'plenty of challenges' for the future.
She said the BSB will consider the recommendations fully and use them to base its decision-making as to how it carries out its regulatory duties in the public interest in the future.
Maura McGowan, Bar Council chairman, said the bar will 'propoerly consider and digest' the review before responding fully.
She said the report recognises that the current system of legal services education and training provides, for the most part, a good standard of education and training, which will provide a solid foundation for ensuring that the system remains fit for the future.
McGowan said: 'A number of the proposals relating to training for the bar appear to be sensible and rational developments of legal training, in keeping with the emerging legal services infrastructure.'
But she added: 'Much of this work was already underway, either preceding the LETR or in tandem with it. We will take time to examine carefully the full impact of the recommendations and provide our own suggestions for improving the system in due course to ensure that our collective objectives can be met.'