Legal Education and Training

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Legal training ensures that legal and judicial reforms contribute to changing the attitudes and behaviors of lawyers and citizens. For this reason, legal training should be an integral part of legal and judicial reform strategies that are anchored on the rule of law and reflect a country’s societal values. Legal education strengthens professionalism, builds public confidence, and facilitates consensus and momentum for further reforms. Legal education also improves the performance of legal professionals, enhances service quality and stimulates public respect. As a result, training programs should be designed not only to enhance performance but also to instill the values of impartiality, professionalism, competency, efficiency and public service.

The learning of skills

So far this report has focused on the legal education the participants experienced. Although the participants’ evaluation has hinted at deficiencies, we now classify and elaborate a critique and identify some of the gaps recognised in this study.

Current complaints and concerns regarding the legal education and training of law graduates are broadly focused on two areas. Firstly their lack of adequate legal knowledge and secondly their lack of adequate skills - analytical, language, research, presentation, drafting and so on.

In light of the rapid changes experienced by the profession and the increasing specialisation and globalisation of the law, it is arguable that more focus should be placed on sharpening these higher level professional skills. This might be at the expense of context bound activities such as interviewing, or specialist legal knowledge which is unlikely to be used by most solicitors in practice.

Research skills

Qualifying law degrees require a student to study seven foundation subjects plus legal research skills, although for the latter there are no stipulations for discrete teaching. Furthermore under the Training contract standards trainees must have the ability to conduct and communicate the results of competent research. From the point of view of our participants, there was clear identification of the importance of effective research skills. Debate concerned the stage at which those skills are best taught and recognition of their failure at the time to take the teaching of these skills seriously.

These declarations illustrate that at the academic stage our participants didn’t appreciate the significance of the research skills they were being taught and didn’t take them seriously, unless, as we found, there was a measurable outcome in the form of marks awarded for assignments or group presentations for instance. So, if research has a purpose then efforts will be made to learn the skills. Generally though, at this point, reliance was placed on textbooks, lecture notes and case law.

CPE interviewees reported a distinct lack of prolonged training in research skills, acknowledging the fact that studying a three year course truncated into one year means that something has to give. However, none reported feeling disadvantaged by this, either because these skills were covered during the LPC stage and/or just worked out along the way, ie “learnt by default”

There was a marked tendency amongst our participants to take research more seriously at the LPC stage of training (“I think my research skills only acquired some modicum of excellence when I did the LPC”. Firstly, they were obliged to by the course weighting towards practical legal research skills and the importance it attaches to them - these skills were part of their daily lives as students and there was no way to disguise the fact if they failed to complete a research task. But, secondly, at the LPC stage our participants “felt more like lawyers and wanted to do it”.

Participants informed us that as trainees much of their time was spent in legal research and that the expectation “on the job” was that they would just “get on with it”. They appreciated the fact that they could not “just ask questions the whole time [and had] to be capable of going off and looking things up” . On occasion participants expressed resentment as to the amount of research they were required to do during their training contracts. They felt research was an activity no one else wanted to do.

Literacy skills

The Training Framework Review consultation paper has accented concerns, inter alia, about poor literacy skills. Michael Mathews, chair of the review, has reported a suggestion made to him for an improved level of English to be part of the core foundations required of a solicitor. He observed that “somewhere along the way the art of writing a simple, clear and professional client letter has been lost and surely needs to be mastered before a trainee gets adorned with the banner ‘qualified’.”

All four of the participants who brought letter writing up as an issue pointed to the fact that it’s a personal style that can cause frictions.

This participant continued to write the way he was taught, but others felt there was little point in developing their own style and instead adapted their writing to suit that of the particular principal for whom they were working.

At undergraduate level legal research failed to provide participants with the full range of skills they required for practice. This was not helped by the fact that participants failed to take the teaching of these skills seriously. Their attitudes changed on undertaking the LPC, mainly because of the practical nature of the course and its focus on skills. As trainees, participants spent much of their time in legal research and of necessity became proficient. For most participants literacy skills were not highlighted as an issue. For those making comment trainers’ complaints about trainee’s lack of literacy often concerned a conflict of personal writing style.

The impact of specialisation

The logic of the present system of legal education and training is that the stages are progressively more relevant to legal practice. The contribution of the degree, insofar as it is relevant to practice, provides a broad base of legal knowledge and, largely academic skills. Participants perceive this to be the case. For example, one suggested that “my actual law degree was not that relevant in a number of ways but everything at law college was very relevant.

Workplace specialisation for lawyers has raised the issue of what level of particularity and generality is relevant at the initial and vocational stages.

There are various possible implications of job specialisation that need to be considered.

It appears to be difficult for law graduates to assess how well education has prepared them for practice, and this difficulty is exacerbated the further back they have to go. Participants therefore found it difficult to assess the intrinsic value of the initial stage as a professional preparation. There was some appreciation that awareness of the general legal framework is useful.

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