Monthly Archives: December 2013

My must have apps of 2013

If your digital office looks like mine

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then you need to read this excellent article My must have apps of 2013

I’ve now been paperless for 3 years, haven’t bought a CD for 5, nor a DVD for the same period, and I’m more productive, listen to more music and watch a greater number of movies and TV series than ever. It’s why I think that Jobs and Wozniak will go down in history as the modern day Edison and Marconi.

2013: A Personal and Professional Reflection on the Year

As 2013 draws to a close, I’m reflecting on the year with a mixture of sorrow and joy.

On a personal level, one of my closest friends died this year, way before her time, of brain cancer. It was a distressing thing to watch and has been a sad episode in our lives, in fact the sadness will always be there even though we’ll always have happy, fond memories to remember as well. Suzanne Lowe was an inspirational law tutor, wonderful mother, and very dear friend who is and will be missed every single day for the rest of our lives.

On a professional level, the year has ended on an exciting note. I left the stale environment of a conservative organisation that had become the plaything of business professionals rather than the charity for the advancement of legal education that was it’s original raison d’être. Although I admit that there was an initial shock of being out on my own, the subsequent 8 weeks of my fledgling consultancy business has seen me involved in more innovative, creative, exciting collaborations with more potential than anything I had been involved in in probably the previous 8 years with my former employer. My analogy of the change is that whereas I had been swimming lengths in a swimming pool, now I’m skinny-dipping in the rapids: exciting, unpredictable, scary, exhilarating. I thank all those friends, family and colleagues who have been so supportive over the course of 2013, particularly my wife who is and remains the bedrock of me and my family and whose professional opinion I value above anyone else.

2014 will be an exciting time professionally, I have no doubt about that. Legal education is undergoing a lot of change and although it may take the whole of 2014 for some of that change to take shape, there is no doubt about the substantial debates, discussions, and developments that are taking place in response and in preparation of what is to come. I am looking forward to further and more collaborations with those who are leading change in legal education. 2013 ends on a high note in that regard, I hope 2014 sees those collaborations really take off.

As mentioned, 2013 was a sad year personally and I’ll admit that Christmas and New Year is a time when absent friends and family are missed the most. I wish us all a healthy, prosperous and peaceful 2014, a year to enjoy life for the blessing it truly is.

Happy new year!!

Nigel

The Legal Edlines (or how I became a press mogul)

Just prior to this Christmas I decided to become a newspaper editor. Now forgive me if that sounds a bit grandiose, as if I have designs on becoming the next Rupert Murdoch (heaven forbid) or that I am about to start sporting a Trilby with a press card stuck in the side (do paparazzi still sport such things?). No, it’s a lot simpler to explain and even easier to do I’m afraid.

I have always had what I would call ‘alerter’ services (emails, newsletters, websites) that I would refer to either on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to keep up to date with professional news. I have a set routine of checking certain reliable sources for information once a week, usually on a Friday, to catch up with what’s been happening and keep my ear to the ground for new and interesting developments. That usually entailed visiting several websites until I came across paper.li a while ago and I have found it a very useful way of capturing and curating content in the form of a newsletter that can be informative and communicative. My particular newsletter is “A Weekly Round-up of Legal Education News” which, in a vain attempt to be both witty and descriptive, I decided to call, ‘The Legal Edlines’ (do you see what I just did there?):

The Legal Edlines

To be honest, it’s very simple to set-up. Once you’ve decided the format, using the paper.li tutorial, it’s a question of searching and listing the sources of shared information that you would like to curate and publish. Instructions are very simple to follow and the paper.li software does all the work for you. There are one or two areas which you can use in the basic free version to personalise your newspaper (such as fonts, titles, headings, editorial comment) and then all you have to do is decide when you want to publish, how often, and whether you want to promote your editions via social media or not. It really is that simple.

So, if you, like me, rely on weekly updates on Legal Education, please check out and subscribe to The Legal Edlines I’ll be publishing every week without fail and will publicise each edition through Twitter at @nghudson Please comment on the paper and any articles. There are bound to be many interesting and discursive topics that are posted and it would be great to get as many readers as possible involved. Please check it out, subscribe and see what you think.

A Christmas Message

Going to be using Audioboo from time to time in the new year to add a bit of a personal touch to the blog and also post some quick comments as opposed to lengthier scribblings.

Everyone’s now winding down work for the holidays and that includes me too. So, here is my Christmas message from me to you. Merry Christmas and best wishes for the new year!

http://audioboo.fm/boos/1815447

The death knell of the LPC

Legal Practice Course (LPC) providers have known that the death knell sounded for the LPC some time ago. However, there is now irrefutable proof that the message has got through to would-be lawyers: there are better and cheaper ways of learning and becoming a qualified lawyer than going on the LPC.
 
Figures published by the Law Society Gazette http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/5039127.article?utm_source=dispatch&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GAZ091213 now show that the number of students enrolled on full-time LPCs has shrunk by 8.4% this year. In 2012/13 enrolments fell 4%, so the trend is downward and falling fast.
 
In all, 5,198 students enrolled with the 27 LPC providers for 2013/2014, according to data from the Central Applications Board, the admissions service for full-time LPC and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) applicants. This was 475 fewer than last year, and means that more than 6,500 course places theoretically approved by regulators are unfilled.
 
On average, courses are only 44% full, the figures show. Since 2008/09 the total number of students applying for LPCs has plummeted by 37.5%, from 10,933. That is a massive downturn in the market by anyone’s standards.
 
Peter Crisp, chief executive of BPP Law School claims ‘The figures reflect a market correction” but the reality is that this is not a correction but the continued decline of a course that is increasing irrelevant to learners wanting a career in the legal services market of today. The LPC is too expensive, students think that the course is unsatisfactory, and those in practice still complain (and have done for that last 20 years) that LPC graduates are still unprepared for work on Day One. It’s taken a while, those in the LPC industry with most to lose have been in a state of public denial, but it ’s now time to recognise that change is actually happening, both from the bottom up and the top down.
Learners are voting with their feet. The Regulators are saying that the pathways to qualification have to be more flexible, more accessible, and produce competent practitioners who can illustrate how they have at least achieved Day One outcomes. True, it will be a slow death (painful I believe for those still undertaking it) for the LPC and it’s likely that the content-crammer short version will continue, at least for those going to Big Law who desire lawyers from the Oxbridge/LPC route. But for the vast majority of future learners looking for a career in legal services, there is a need for something different. In three words: work-based learning.
 
Work-based learning allows people to ‘earn while you learn, and learn while you earn’. It provides hands-on, real-time, practical experience that cannot be gained by any amount of reading and discussion, not that reading and discussion should not feature as part of work-based learning. The idea that a person practices a discipline whilst at the same time learning theory and continually developing their skills and knowledge, is the very essence of what it is to be a professional.
 
There seems to be a general endorsement of work-based learning from Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Alternative Business Structures, and many other employers. CILEx has always had work-based learning qualifications. As a young ‘Articled Clerk’ (remember those, you 40 somethings out there) back in the mid-80s, I worked in a 7 partner firm mainly staffed by experienced Legal Executives at various stages of membership or fellowship. Their knowledge and experience was a match for any of the firm’s partners (who of course were all Solicitors) and they were valued and respected by both their peers and their clients. Even the young ones knew far more than me, because their knowledge was based and their skills honed on real life, real time experience under the supervision of colleague’s acting as mentors. True, I was a product of the old Law Society Finals but I doubt whether today’s graduates from the current LPC are on the whole any better off. My point is that whilst there has always been work-based learning in legal education, legal education has not always been about work-based learning and that has got to change now.
 
The signs are that the SRA has recognised this in its current ’Training for Tomorrow’ (T4T) project (though note that the current LPC pathway is still envisaged until 2017/18), we are now waiting to hear more from the Bar Standards Board about its response to the Legal Eduction and Training Review (LETR).
 
Two of the main themes that came out strongly during the SRA T4T roadshows and recent webinar were (1) risk-based regulation and (2) qualification based on Day One outcomes with assessment of competencies and ethics.
 
Risk based regulation means regulation should be directed. One size does not fit all. There are lots of diverse legal services now being provided under the auspice of a small number of regulators. The variety of legal services will only continue to grow in the future and that poses a problem to a regulator that wants to cover all of the various risks but does not want to either be overly prescriptive or guilty of a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
 
This dilemma is epitomised by the SRA’s consideration of a standard assessment as a gateway to qualification as a Solicitor. For the LPC or its successor pathways, it sounds like a return to the Law Society Finals although I’m sure that the SRA only wants to lay down the standard rather than prescribe the content or be responsible for the setting or administration of the assessment itself. 
 
A standard across all legal services may be possible and acceptable for the assessment of ethics, but it would be difficult for competencies. We could all list, or at least attempt to list, the ethics by which we wish to see lawyers abide (honesty, integrity, confidentiality, trustworthy, etc) but it is difficult to do the same for competencies without being too prescriptive in specific areas or falling into a one-size fits all trap
 
It also follows that if we can produce a standard assessment of ethics applicable to all ‘lawyers’ (ie all those providing legal services) then the distinction between Barrister, Solicitor, Legal Executive, and Paralegal disappears in that regard. They are all ‘lawyers’ abiding by the same ethical rules. If those distinctions disappear (and I’ve got a great many more reasons why I can see that happening already) then is there a need for separate regulators of professions that not longer exist or are merged? Are we looking at a Legal Services Authority instead of a Solicitors Regulation Authority and what does that mean for the very existence of the other regulators?
 
Finally, for now, what does it mean for learners, for those wanting to become lawyers in the future?
 
Well as I’ve said, the evidence is now clear that they are voting with their feet and deciding against the current LPC route. Nevertheless, there is little urgency for the big LPC providers to change their teaching and learning strategy until their market has been seriously compromised despite the fact that there are signs that that is already happening. However, if you have a short term strategy of maximising profit, there is everything to be gained from squeezing everything out of what you’ve currently got and little incentive to invest in innovation that might not pay off. Remember, the current LPC pathway is still going to be relevant until 2017/18 according to the SRA, the likely time that Montagu will sell the University of Law (the largest LPC provider) as part of it’s business plan. Those with more innovative ideas and a view to the longer term should be looking to embrace work-based learning with everything they have and so achieve not only a pedagogical but also a commercial advantage. 
 
Work-based learning: LETR recommended it, the Regulators are encouraging it, and most importantly the learners of today and tomorrow are demanding it.

 

Review: SRA Training for Tomorrow Roadshow

Last week I attended the final event in the current SRA roadshow entitled ‘Training for Tomorrow – Ensuring the lawyers of today have the skills for tomorrow’ which was held in the Nottingham Conference Centre.

The event was well-attended, about 25 people representing sectors from in-house, private practice, legal education, learning & development, and the student body. Tim Pearce and Victoria Quinn presented on behalf of the SRA.

The event was divided into 3 sections: How did we get here; the SRA’s current thinking; and what part everyone could play in the continuing process.

How did we get here?

How we got here has been fairly well documented and commented upon but for those who have not been following, here is a brief summary.

The SRA and other regulators, and the Legal Services Board, recognised that a major review of legal services education and training (LSET) was necessary and so the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) was commissioned by the three major regulators: the SRA, BSB and IPS. The report was prepared by an UKCLE consortium of academics and researchers. Their report was evidence based highlighting strengths and weaknesses of the current system. Each of the three major regulators is now responding in its own way, but all three are said to be liaising on common issues.

The main drivers for reform were:

  • the SRA’s regulatory strategy as well as LETR;
  • unprecedented changes in the legal services market including new business structures, the advent of globalisation and increased commoditisation of legal services;
  • the effect of the Legal Services Act which required entity based regulation and different regulatory objectives;
  • the development of the SRA as an outcomes focused, risk based regulator;
  • the role of education and training in the SRA’s regulatory strategy’; and
  • the realisation that one size does not fit all, flexibility being necessary to match the market and regulation having to be proportionate to the risk.

The SRA’s current thinking

‘Training for Tomorrow’ is intended to be a radical reform of the legal education training system. The principles that underpin it are:

  • ensuring good standards of legal practice through the competence of those regulated by the SRA;
  • relevance to the modern legal services industry and the needs of consumers;
  • flexibility in a complex marketplace; and
  • the confidence of consumers and the public.

It is an attempt by the SRA to define key knowledge, standards and attributes of ‘a Solicitor’. It is an attempt to define the level of service and quality of professionalism expected by the public.

Tim Pearce said that the SRA wants to ensure that those entering the profession are competent and meet the professions high standards. Meanwhile, those already delivering legal services must continue to meet those high standards. At the same time, the SRA wants to encourage flexibility, diversity, efficiency and innovation in the ways that lawyers qualify as Solicitors. As far as the SRA is concerned, if the standard required to qualify is clear then the process is of little concern.

Beyond qualification, the SRA also wants to ensure that those delivering legal services continue to do so to a high standard. It wants to see a reform of continuing professional development and a review of the current system based on hours served. Instead of the current system, the SRA would like to see more flexible and targeted CPD. It is looking at the workforce make-up of all types of legal services providers to determine where the SRA needs to ensure competence.

One of the main thrusts behind ‘Training for Tomorrow’ is the wish to encourage flexibility, diversity, efficiency and innovation in the routes to qualification as a Solicitor. The SRA is considering how prescriptive it needs to be about pathways to qualification and how training providers and employers can be encouraged to be innovative. The SRA believes that a greater diversity of pathways will help high-calibre candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds who may have previously had difficulty with the traditional pathways. The SRA will however maintain control over the stages to be followed in order to ensure that high standards are maintained.

A dominant theme of the SRA for some time now has been the removal of unnecessary regulation. It believes that much can be done now before other reforms are in place. Processes can be removed where they duplicate education and training providers’ existing processes and quality assurance procedures. There is a need to re-think the training contract to focus on the SRA’s regulatory role and the quality of training. Systems are to be developed which are targeted to risk as opposed to blanket systems which have proven to be burdensome or unnecessary.

Comment

The roadshow event in Nottingham raised some interesting issues:

  • What are the competencies required of a ‘competent’ Solicitor and what standard should be applied?
  • Are those competencies common to all sectors of the legal services market and is the standard variable or the same?
  • How prescriptive will the SRA have to be in setting out the competencies? Would a standard of, say, a Solicitor having to be ‘safe’ to practice be acceptable? Would a standard of ‘fit for practice’ be better? Is a standard of ‘competent’ too low?
  • Are ethical considerations easier to standardise across all legal services? If so, would that lead to a common standard assessment?
  • Should questions of ethics and competencies be addressed by the vocational education providers rather than the academic providers (the current pathway to qualification is likely to be still in place up to 2017/18 at the earliest)? This was a point that resulted in quite a bit of debate.

What part can everyone play in the continuing process?

The SRA were very open and honest at the roadshow event. It genuinely wants views. Indeed, in the words of Tim Pearce, “If there are cans of worms, we want to open up all of those cans.”

There are a number of ways that you can participate in the online debate:

  • visit the SRA ‘Training for Tomorrow’ website at http://www.sra.org.uk/t4t
  • contact the SRA at T4T@sra.org.uk
  • follow the debate on Twitter @SRA_t4t

More immediately, there will be a webinar tomorrow, Thursday 5 December 2013, between 12.30 and 1.30pm in which anyone is welcome to participate. Check the SRA t4t website (see above) for more details on how to register.