Legal Education and the Professions: Deliver the LETR?

The W G Hart Legal Workshop 2014 was held at the Institute from Monday 23 June 2014 to Tuesday 24 June 2014. The 2014 Workshop entitled: Legal Education and the Professions: Deliver the LETR? provided some academic distance from LETR and professions' and regulators' responses. It represented an important opportunity to think about some of the issues identified below, and many other aspects of legal education and training and the professions.

Academic Directors:

  • Professor Avrom Sherr (IALS, University of London)
  • Professor Hilary Sommerlad (Birmingham University)
  • Professor Richard Moorhead (University College London)

Currently legal education is going through a period of unprecedented change and the Workshop provided an important opportunity for reflection on these changes and specifically on the report and recommendations published last year by the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR).  The workshop addressed not only the changes proposed by the LETR but also the broader issues of what is, and what should be, the role of legal education; whether legal education should continue to seek to provide a liberal, humanist education (and whether it will even be able to do so), or whether the emphasis on the market inevitably means that legal education will become tailored to the demands of the profession.   The Workshop brought together some 80 academics to discuss these and other issues, both practical and pedagogical, including contributions from America, Australia Canada,  Hong Kong and Israel, and from the regulators for England and Wales.  The Academic Directors of the Workshop were  Professor Avrom Sherr (IALS), Professor Richard Moorhead (UCL), and Professor Hilary Sommerlad (Birmingham).  The keynote addresses were given by Professor Richard Abel from UCLA Law School and Professor Harry Arthurs, Osgoode Hall Law School, Canada.

The first day of the Workshop ended with a reception  to honour Professor Avrom Sherr and the official unveiling of Professor Sherr's portrait by the notable portrait painter Alastair Adams, member and President of the Royal Society of  Portrait Painters,  which now hangs alongside Alastair's earlier works of Professors Daintith and Rider.  Over 120 friends and colleagues were present, with the occasion marked by various speeches and we were particularly delighted to welcome back Lord Hope, former chair of IALS Advisory Council during Professor Sherr's Directorship, for the official unveiling of the new portrait, which all agreed was a truly outstanding addition to the Institute's collection.

The Legal Education Review (LETR) has produced its research report, but its recommendations generate many questions. For instance, it has suggested an approach which could transcend the boundaries between the different legal professions. As a result, the LSB is pushing regulators towards evidence- and risk-based policy and the SRA are indicating a bonfire of the regulations - but do we know enough about the interactions between regulation and education to justify this move?
Another of the report's key proposals is that legal education be shaped by outcomes unlike those currently governing education and training.  However, if drawn at too high a conceptual level, such competencies might be too vague to be useful, yet if they are more tightly specified they are likely to provide a never ending list of standards to be attained.  The result could be that legal educators and professionals 'drown in a sea of competencies', while the means by which such competencies will be assessed, and by whom, is uncertain. Will assessment be by the market, 'traditional' University law schools, vocational law schools, even venture capitalists? And how will such a market driven system impact on academic research?

All these questions point to an even more fundamental, and long standing, issue – namely, what is, and what should be, the role of a legal education?  Should it – will it be able to - continue to seek to provide a liberal, humanist education designed primarily to inculcate a critical awareness of the meaning of law, including its ethical content and social role?  Or does the emphasis on the market inevitably mean that it will be explicitly tailored to the demands of the profession?  This is the logic of LETR's recommendations, but it had great difficulty in divining the future of legal practice.  Some indications may be found in a recent paper by The Law Society of England and Wales and the results of the Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law's "Innovating Justice" Project. Clearly, legal educators will need to understand the possible futures both for the professions and the Rule of Law.  However it is undeniable that this task is made more difficult by the dramatic changes the professions have undergone in recent years, which have served both to produce further fragmentation and make the future highly opaque.

These 'big' questions generate practical, pedagogical issues.  For instance,  if legal service provision is to be dominated by new models of provision, modes of delivery and concerns with professional engagement, how will this impact on what is taught and how it is taught? Should systems thinking, design and big data be integrated into a legal curriculum?  And how should Law Schools respond to, on the one hand, the increased emphasis in universities on employability and, on the other, the growth in low wage, casual labour markets within the professions, markets which also appear to be predominantly populated by graduates from Black and Minority Ethnic and lower socio-economic backgrounds?  Does this reduce the legitimacy of legal education? Do Law Schools have an ethical obligation to warn applicants of the likely difficulties in entering the professions? In the United States this is now a high profile issue: Law Schools have been accused of promoting their ability to provide law jobs to graduates unfairly, and have seen a significant drop in applications, leading to a review of their whole approach. President Obama has suggested that a law degree should take two, rather than three postgraduate years. The Bologna Declaration for education in the EU suggests that educational systems throughout Europe should aim for three years of education plus two years of practical training. In England and Wales solicitors are already one year above this prescription.

Plenary speakers:

Professor Richard Abel, UCLA Law School
“You Never Want a Serious Crisis to Go to Waste”:  Reflections on the Reform of Legal Education in the US, UK and Australia
Professor Harry Arthurs, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto
Workshop Introduction
Nina Fletcher, the Law Society of England and Wales
Solicitors and the market for legal services: perspectives on change, the future and uncertainty
Dita Gill, London Metropolitan University
Self-reflection, self-confidence and the non-traditional student
Dr Eyal Katvan, College of Law and Business, Ramat Gan
Are there two hemispheres in the legal profession and legal education in Israel?’
Dr Mathias Killian, University of Cologne
The German Legal Education Reforms

Workshop Panel Speakers:

Sana’ Al Sarghali, Lancaster University
Legal Education in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: Background, Current Situation and Future Prospects
Dr Louise Ashley, University of Kent
Exclusive Inclusivity’: Balancing status and legitimacy in the UK’s legal sector and the implications for legal education
Diane Atherton, Keele University ‘This was entirely my own choice...’ Professional Structures, Personal Agency and Muslim Female Solicitors
Professor Anthony Bradney, Keele University
Are English University Law Schools Too Successful?’
Rodrigo Cespedes Proto, Lancaster University
Chilean Legal Education and Legal Training: Background, Current Situation and Future Prospects
Professor Jane Ching and Professor Rebecca Huxley-Binns, Nottingham Law School
Portia, Louisa, Christabel, Yvonne, She-Hulk or Ashley? Women legal academics, their identities and their responsibilities
Professor Richard Collier, University of Newcastle ‘Love Law, Love Life’: Wellbeing in the Legal Profession – Some Critical Reflections on Recent Developments
Dr Egle Dagilyte, Peter Coe, Buckingham New University
Professionalism in law degrees: chartering the territory between liberal education and legal services
Dr Haydn Davies and Emma Flint, Birmingham City University
A Question of Ethics
Professor Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford
Legal theory and the image: an unorthodox approach to jurisprudence
Dean Kim Economides, Flinders University
Regulation and Reform of Legal Education in Australia: An Antipo-Dean View
Professor Nigel Duncan, City University
The Integrative Role of Professional Ethics
Professor John Flood, Westminster University
Legal Education is a Ponzi Scheme: It Promises a Liberal Education with Riches and Status and Guess What? It Doesn't Deliver Yet Law Schools Keep on Promising.
Professor Andrew Francis, Keele University
Legal Education, Social Mobility and Employability: Possible Selves, Curriculum Intervention and the role of Legal Work Experience
Dr Oscar Guardiola-Rivera
Beyond Human Rights: from southern voices to the next frontier for Law In Context
Dr Matt Harvey, Victoria University, Melbourne
A Distant Mirror: an Australian response to the LETR
Dr Jessica Guth, Bradford University Law School
What’s a Law Degree Got to do with it anyway? A plea for a liberal legal education’
John Hodgson, Nottingham Trent University
Creating an activity based legal qualification system
Nina Holvast, University of Amsterdam; Visiting Research Student, University College London
The role of judicial assistants in the United States, England and Wales, and the Netherlands
Dr Maeve Hosier, Connemara, Ireland
The potential effects of the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 upon law teaching in Ireland
David Howarth, Cambridge University
Law in Context and Law as Engineering: Towards a New Legal Realism
Emer Hunt, University College Dublin
Current problems with a legal education
Nicola Jones, Athena Professional
Continuous Learning, Transformation and Survival in the Legal Sector
Professor Pat Leighton, University of South Wales
The LLB as a liberal degree? A re-assessment from an historical perspective
Professor Andrew Le Sueur, University of Essex and David Marrani, Institute of Law, Jersey
Legal education and training in tiny jurisdictions
Professor Julian Lonbay, University of Birmingham
What can be learned about legal educational standards from the European dimension?
Professor Michael Lower, Chinese University of Hong Kong
An end to the battle for control of the law degree?’
Professor Paul Maharg, Australian National University
Regulatory relationships and legal education: the case of innovation
Professor Donald Nicholson, University of Strathclyde
What has (access to) justice go to do with it?
Richard Owen, University of Essex
Can there be a separate legal education and training agenda for Wales?
Professor Wes Pue, University of British Columbia
Professional innovation in 3 Frontier Towns: Toronto, 1820, Birmingham, 1860, Winnipeg, 1920
Professor Hilary Sommerlad, Birmingham University
The professions, race and ethnicity, and the defence of social hierarchies: The challenge for legal education
Penelope Russell, University of Sheffield
Moving the goal posts: specialisation, socialisation and minimum standards for entry into the legal profession
Professor Andrew Sanders, University of Birmingham
The Law Degree in the light of LETR: The Centrality of Socio-Legalism
Dr Maureen Spencer, Middlesex University
From the idealism of Robbins to the ideology of the market: Whitehall and legal education, 1963-83
Caroline Strevens and Dr Clare Wilson, University of Portsmouth, and Elizabeth Lee, Australia National University
Expectations of students and coping strategies in the face of 'distress': implications for legal education
Professor David Sugarman, Lancaster University (Re)Contextualising Dicey
Nima Mersadi Tabari, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
The Law School of the Future: The International Mooting Module at King’s College London
Dr Dawn Watkins, University of Leicester
Legal Education – a suggestion on how not to lose your Ass
Susan Watson, Kingston University and Susan Scott Hunt, Middlesex University, (The Kingston Law School Project)
Emphasis on the market: early resolution of student disputes now imperative?
Professor Lisa Webley, University of Westminster
Access to a Career in the Legal Profession in England and Wales: Race, Class, and the Role of Educational Background
Professor Helen Xanthaki and Ronan Cormacain, IALS
The SWD Legislative Drafting Clinic: first steps, big promise