A school leaver, with an inkling that they might want to be a ‘lawyer’ when they grow up, can now take so many different paths. Of course there is the first decision, not a new one, which is whether or not to do a law degree (figures change slightly year on year but generally about half of those who qualify as solicitors are non-law graduates). Even for those who choose to do a law degree, the path is not straightforward. Do they stick to a ‘traditional’ three year law degree? Do they go for a three year law degree ‘with a twist’, such as the excellent problem-based learning degree at York University (as previously, I must declare an interest here as I do some tutoring on this course)? Do they go for the new two-year degree being offered by the College of Law? Or do they go for the five-year course at Northumbria, which combines the academic, vocational and training stages all in one?
Degree in the bag, what’s the next stage? Focusing on those looking to become solicitors, the decision of where to do your LPC is no longer straightforward (assuming you are in a position to have a choice). Options for LPC are now more varied than ever, albeit that some of these are tied to particular firms. The most recent additions to the LPC stable are the MA (LPC with Business) being offered to Reed Smith prospective trainees, and the new internationally focused LPC being offered by the College of Law in association with CMS Cameron McKenna.
Of course all of this must be examined in the context of the ongoing Legal Education and Training Review (LETR). As has been widely publicised, more common training of would-be lawyers, abolishing the concept of a qualifying law degree, sector-wide CPD, and scrapping the training contract and pupillage are among the more radical options being considered by the LETR. With a core mission being to simplify routes in and around the profession, ensuring a “structure that increases choice over the processes of qualification, whilst delivering greater certainty to the professions and to consumers as to the quality of outcomes achieved”, it will be fascinating to see where the LETR will end up in terms of recommendations.
Then you have the ‘Mayson’ approach. Professor Stephen Mayson has argued, in a recent paper authored with John Randall and published in February of this year, that an (improved) LPC should be the gateway to qualification as a solicitor but that there should be post qualification requirements for those practising in reserved areas. Of course this approach does raise the question (neatly asked by Professor Richard Moorhead in his Lawyer Watch blog) of what exactly is the point of a title that doesn’t entitle you to do anything.
Even limiting the discussion to the system as is, aspiring lawyers have a much wider choice now in terms of what type of organisation to work for once the academic and vocational stages have been completed. For barristers, there is now so much more on offer than just a traditional chambers. The same goes for solicitors – do you join a traditional partnership, do you join a firm that has a corporate structure (according to a recent blog by Viv Williams, CEO of Legal Futures Associate 360 Legal Group, 25% of the legal profession now trades as limited companies), do you join a firm that is non-lawyer owned and if so, does the identity of such owner inform your decision?
Choice can be a wonderful thing, but I do hope that today’s aspiring lawyers do not find themselves too overwhelmed.