Chancery Lane has responded dismissively to a recommendation from the Legal Services Board that barriers to entry be lowered to satisfy ‘unmet demand’.
John Wotton, chair of the Law Society’s education and training committee and a former Society president, described the super-regulator’s proposed statutory guidance for implementing the recommendations of the Legal Education and Training Review as ‘inappropriate and misguided’.
The LSB maintains that, despite reports of the difficulty of obtaining training contracts and pupillages, ‘there is no evidence of an oversupply of lawyers in the market’. Rather, it is more likely that the market ‘cannot sustain the number of lawyers at the current cost’.
As a solution, it proposes introducing ‘fewer restrictions to the way that people are able to qualify’.
In a forthright response, Wotton said the proposed guidance ‘trespasses upon the proper role of the approved regulators, while the consultation represents an unwelcome distraction from the work that the approved regulators need to get on with’.
He urged the Solicitors Regulation Authority and other regulators ‘not to dance to the LSB’s tune in discharging their responsibilities in this area, which is so vital to the future health of the legal sector’.
The Legal Education and Training Review, published by the three main regulators in June, recommended the creation of a more plural system of entry through ‘incremental’ reform.
But Wotton stressed that, while the Society agrees that there should not be unjustifiable restrictions on entry, ‘there is a real danger that relaxing entry requirements will lead to consumer jeopardy and less competent lawyers’.
Moreover, the English system is one of the least restrictive in the world, he said. ‘The fact is that government policy through legal aid cuts and the Jackson reforms may make it uneconomic for lawyers to provide vital services, irrespective of the qualification requirements.’
Diane Burleigh, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, said that while the principle of diversifying entry was ‘admirable’, the LSB ‘appears to be jumping the gun’.
However, Nigel Savage, president of the University of Law, agreed with the LSB that the market is not oversupplied. ‘The ratio of students passing the LPC exam compared with available training contracts is less than 1:3. Fundamentally we should leave it to the market place to decide how many lawyers are needed,’ he said.
The LSB’s consultation closes on 11 December. The guidance would be implemented under section 162 of the Legal Services Act 2007.