Examining the Law Syllabus: The Core

By P. B. H. Birks; Society of Public Teachers of Law (London, England) | Go to book overview

19. The Teaching and Assessment of Skills at the Vocational Stage: The Law Society's View

NICHOLAS SAUNDERS


1. Introduction

HAVING been so intimately involved in the work of the Training Committee of the Law Society in establishing the framework for the new Legal Practice Course it is very salutary, as well as a great pleasure, to be invited to stand back from the detailed development work and to present in a wider context some of the general principles the Committee has tried to ensure underpinning the new scheme.

Choosing the title for this paper was by no means easy. I am not at all happy with continuing the hallowed distinction between the 'academic stage' and the 'vocational stage', although I am aware that this distaste for such a sharp distinction is partly a personal one and there are those within the Society's Committees and staff who would happily preserve the distinction between 'education' and 'training'. I would not read too much significance into the fact that the lead Law Society Committee is entitled the 'Training' Committee. After all, my own title is 'Head of Legal Education'! Although Peter Johnson, Chairman of the Training Committee has on many occasions stressed the Society's commitment to regarding the education and training of solicitors as an integrated whole the last three years have equally seen a concern to ensure that the new training scheme is developed in partnership between the teaching and practising sides of the profession. This must mean that there are different approaches to design, delivery and evaluation of the various stages of the training scheme.

I therefore think it was right for the Society to start its remodelling of solicitors' education and training1 with the 'vocational' course and (more recently) office based training rather than with the law degree and other methods of mastering the basic principles of the discipline of law. Despite the substantial work undertaken by the Society and the institutions approved to run the Final Course and improvements to the articles scheme such as the arrangements for monitoring articles through interviewing trainees it was in these two areas that the Society received most criticisms from students, practitioners and law teachers. These were also areas where the Society not only had much greater control but had a clear obligation under statute to ensure training was appropriate. I am sure you are all aware that under the Training Regulations 1989 made under the Solicitors Act 1974 law degrees and the CPE are only defined and regulated through the need to include the core subjects. I have been very pleased to see the more open and constructive approach which has become possible since the agreement with the Bar and law teachers in May 19902 under which the professional bodies recognize the wider aims of the 'academic stage' which William Twining has referred to; and law teachers have recognized the professional bodies' right and responsibility to ensure that the knowledge of the basic elements of the discipline of law are provided to all law students at this stage.

I would therefore only make a very small number of comments on Williams Twining's paper. I agree with almost all his theses save that I do not think it follows that a requirement that all law students be expected to acquire some generic intellectual skills could not be accommodated at the academic stage of training. I question whether this would in fact necessitate cramming more into what is often an overcrowded curriculum. Rather, it is perhaps a question of making more explicit what most law teachers would say are key values of legal education, such skills as analysis, application of general principles to specific situations and the ability to sift the relevant from a mass of material. A Sub-Committee of the Training Committee is currently looking at the approach the Society should take to recognizing qualifying law degrees and it is examining both what might be termed core knowledge and core skills, using the latter term in the generic intellectual skill sense used by William Twining. I would stress this process will not be a 'quick fix' to ensure the inclusion of a particular practitioner's pet subject. It will involve discussion with law teachers and the Bar and consideration of all available research evidence such as that undertaken by Phil Jones for the CNAA, surveys of the teaching of and students' knowledge of EC Law undertaken by the College of Law and by the Society and so on.3

____________________
1
"'Training Tomorrow's Solicitors'". Law Society 1990.
2
Joint Announcement of the Law Society and the Council of Legal Education--Qualifying Law Degrees--core subjects 1990.
3
CASEL (Competences, Assessment and Skills in undergraduate law degrees), Philip A. Jones. CNNA 1991; European Community Law Project 1991, College of Law; The Training needs of solicitors arising from the Single European Market, Dr J. Lombay, Institute of European Law, Birmingham University, 1992.

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