Young Legal Aid Lawyers
“For reasons of legitimacy and fairness, the legal profession must be open to anyone and reflect the diversity of the communities it serves.”
As a group of young and aspiring lawyers, one of YLAL’s core objectives is to promote the interests of new entrants to the profession. Following the Legal Education and Training Review undertaken on behalf of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards, which reported in 2013, the qualification requirements for lawyers seem to have entered a period of flux.
The LETR was the first stage of a process intended to ensure England and Wales have an effective system of legal education and training for the future. While it found the current system provides good standard of education and training, the LETR made a number of recommendations concerning quality, flexibility, access and mobility.
At a recent YLAL meeting in London, we heard from Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director of education and training, about its responses to the LETR’s recommendations. The SRA conducted a review before publishing and consulting on a competence statement, intended ‘to capture the key activities required for effective performance as a solicitor’ (Training for Tomorrow: A Competence Statement for Solicitors, 20 October 2014). The competence statement came into effect from 1 April 2015.
The next stage, as Julie explained, concerns the mechanisms for qualification. In 1993, the Legal Practice Course replaced the Law Society Finals as the sole route to qualification, but there are now several additional pathways, including the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme, apprenticeships and equivalent means. This raises the issue of how to compare the different routes to qualification and verify their credibility.
The SRA is working towards a further consultation at the end of the year. One potential solution is the introduction of a common professional assessment at the post-training contract stage to ensure comparability of the various qualification routes. YLAL will respond to this consultation with the views and concerns of our members, in particular regarding the potential impact on entry into the profession by people from less-privileged backgrounds.
In July 2015, the BSB launched its own consultation in response to the LETR (Consultation on the Future Training for the Bar: Academic, Vocational and Professional Stages of Training). This follows an overview document, published in February 2015, of its vision of future training for the bar. The overview envisions a new professional statement setting out the knowledge, skills and attributes of a competent barrister. This will be supported by established minimum requirements that every newly qualified barrister must achieve.
The BSB’s consultation covers the three components of professional qualification: part one looks at the academic stage, part two the vocational stage, and part three the professional stage (pupillage). YLAL will respond to this consultation, which closes on 30 October 2015. In brief, we will raise the following concerns:
Part one proposes the introduction of a minimum degree requirement of a 2:1, presumably when applying for the Bar Professional Training Course. YLAL is concerned about how this will affect professional diversity, as the pool of qualifying candidates and the breadth of experience that they bring will be reduced. Part two raises the issue of the high costs of professional training. The cost of the BPTC is currently in excess of £18,000 and the mandatory Bar Course Aptitude Test is £150. The minimum funding requirement for pupillage is £12,000. YLAL has reported extensively on the impact of these costs on social mobility and access to the profession, and welcomes the BSB’s engagement with this issue. This part also considers the slow pace at which the BPTC has adapted to changes in the legal market; again, we support the exploration of appropriate work-based and career-relevant learning solutions to this problem. Part three discusses the growing financial risk to pupils working in areas that are or were publicly funded. YLAL believes the BSB has a key role to play in ensuring finance is no bar to access to the profession. This part also explores the BSB’s role in pupillage and the validation requirements for pupillage training organisations and supervisors.
Flying the flag for diversity
YLAL will continue to engage with both regulators during the review process to emphasise the importance of social mobility. It is imperative that the overall structures of the training routes support entry into the profession by anyone, irrespective of wealth or background.
For reasons of legitimacy and equity, the legal profession must be open to anyone and reflect the diversity of the communities it serves. YLAL will remind the regulators of their vital roles in enhancing social mobility. ■