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.
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.