Impact case study
Shaping Policy for Legal Professional Education in the UK and Internationally
Unit(s) of assessment: Law
Research theme: Safety and Security of Citizens and Society
School: Nottingham Law School
Historically, legal professional education has employed “command and control” regulation emphasising e.g., curricula, time to be served in mandatory pre-qualification work experience or hours of CPD. The introduction of the Legal Services Act 2007 required legal regulators in England and Wales to adopt “outcomes-focused” regulation (OFR). This created a significant need for empirical research on whether the existing model of legal professional education was fit for purpose.
Research carried out by the Centre for Legal Education (CLE) has had far-reaching impact on changing the regulatory structures governing lawyers’ pre- and post- qualification education in the UK, Ireland and Australia. The research has led to a marked improvement in the quality of the provision of legal services by:
- driving significant revisions to the policy of the Legal Services Board (LSB) and professional regulators for approximately 168,000 lawyers in England and Wales, and paralegals
- influencing policy development and debate in professional legal education in Australia and research strategies in reviews of legal education in the Republic of Ireland
The quality of the underpinning research has been evidenced by rigorous externally peer reviewed outputs and has been widely used a point of reference for legal education beyond NTU.
In 2010 the LSB commissioned Ching (NTU) and Maharg (then Northumbria), with Sherr (IALS) and Webb (Warwick), to undertake ‘the most substantial review of legal education and training since the publication of the Ormrod Report of 1971’. The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) explored all stages of legal education and training, including the academic stage(s) of qualification, professional training and continuing professional development of the regulated professions. It identified both the scope for deregulation of existing training requirements, and whether there was a case for bringing aspects of the non-regulated sector within a scheme of regulation.
Through a wide-ranging international review of practice, impact analysis and various empirical methods (interviews, focus groups and online surveys), the LETR team assessed perceptions of the existing system in terms of skills, knowledge and attributes; assessed potential for sector-wide outcomes; considered the unregulated sector; recommended means of response to emerging needs, including diversity.
Both Ching and Maharg (2013-2019) made major contributions to the project, with Ching leading on Stage 3, which involved the collection and analysis of the qualitative data around the content and structures of legal education. The project included overseeing 56 interviews and 39 focus groups with a range of stakeholders including the regulated professions, paralegals, judges, trainees/pupils, academics and students. The research has been subject to peer review for quality assurance purposes.
Ching’s findings directly informed the research team’s overarching recommendation that legal professional education be recalibrated to ensure compliance with the statutory objectives, namely outcomes-focused regulation, and fitness for the future. It was found that the existing qualification and CPD structures contained weaknesses in quality (ethics, standardisation, inputs CPD models, lack of data supporting decision-making), accessibility (internships, paralegal career progression, apprenticeships, information for aspiring lawyers) and flexibility (transfer between professions, narrow regulatory prescription of pathways). These findings enhance understanding of the effects of regulation at a sector-wide level and, uniquely, of the relationships between the professions, including the often-overlooked smaller professions.
Follow-up research conducted two years and five years after the initial report found that significant change was beginning to take root in both policy and practice. However, further enhancement could be made by moving away from risk-management compliance towards a form of ‘shared space’ that encourages individual responsibility, forges better links between researchers and the professions, and assists in the public understanding of legal education and training.
The Review led to changes in the nature of legal education and training in England & Wales and abroad in the following ways:
Effecting a shift to outcomes/standards and outputs in CPD models
As a direct result of the Review, the LSB instructed all regulators “to [consider] the evidence and recommendations contained within the Legal Education and Training Review and to complete a review of their regulatory arrangements for education and training” in March 2014. Regulators responded with plans of action.
The LSB has confirmed that, since the publication of LETR, three regulators have moved to an outcomes focused approach to Continuing Professional Development, and five such regulators have produced a competency statement setting out what an authorised person must be able to do on his or her first day of practice.In fact, all but one of the seven regulators (775 notaries) now use a competence statement (c167,000 lawyers). The SRA proposes to assess all intending solicitors (c4,000 per year) against the competence statement from 2021. Outputs CPD was adopted for all 143,652 practising solicitors in November 2016 and all 16,435 practising barristers in January 2017 (S2, S5).
Ensuring greater flexibility in mandatory pre-qualification work experience
Drawing on the Review’s recommendations to enhance diversity through embedding a greater variety of working environments, the SRA adopted the “equivalent means” qualification route and has, consistently with recs 15 and 22, increased the range of permitted environments. Similarly, the Bar now recognises “other forms of work-based learning” as an alternative to pupillage.
Validating voluntary regulation and quality assurance for the newly significant paralegal profession
The Professional Paralegal Register, launched in December 2014, was created specifically in response to recs 22-23 of the Review to address concerns around diversity and public interest objectives. It is a professional body with criteria for accreditation, a code of conduct and complaints mechanism. It is supported by organisations including the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the Legal Services Consumer Panel.
Influencing the modernisation of qualification frameworks in other jurisdictions
The recommendations in the Legal Education and Training Review have significantly influenced policy developments in other jurisdictions. Indeed, R2 and R4 comment on the potential of its methodologies and findings to influence professional legal education in other jurisdictions. For example, in 2014, the Australian Law Admissions Consultative Committee stated that the Legal Education and Training Review directly influenced their own investigations for the approximately 66,211 Australian practitioners. The Legal Education and Training Review also informed the research design of a confidential report to the Law Society of Ireland on improving solicitor education in a competitive legal services environment. This research was commissioned in anticipation of a statutory review of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, which contains several similar provisions to the Legal Services Act 2007.
- Webb, J., Ching, J., Maharg, P., Sherr, A., ‘Setting Standards: The Future of Legal Services Education and Training Regulation in England and Wales’ (2013) < https://paulmaharg.com/letr/>
- Ching, J., Maharg, P., Sherr, A., Webb, J., ‘An Overture for Well-Tempered Regulators: Four Variations on a LETR Theme’ (2015) 49 The Law Teacher 143
- Ching, J., Maharg, P., Sherr, A., Webb, J., ‘Legal Education & Training Review: A Five-Year Retro/Prospective’ (2018) 52 The Law Teacher 384
- Ching J, Crewe J and Maharg P, ‘Solicitor Education in Ireland: A Review’ (Law Society of Ireland 2018)