Sunday, June 05, 2005

Collaborating With Others

My colleagues and I have just finished a joint-authored article about changes in legal education that are being proposed in the UK. It hasn't been the most pleasant activity, instead it became a chore. For a start, there were too many egos involved. It was clear where our respective strengths lay, but there was a feeling that one of us would provide the lead for others to follow. And to be honest I'm not keen on following. I prefer to determine the path for others.

We have different perspectives that represent the ways our interests have gone. Let me back up here. My other two colleagues are Andy Boon and Julian Webb, both of whom are interested in the legal profession. Their interests diverge from mine in that they are involved quite heavily with educational matters, whereas I'm not. I am interested in aspects of professions from a sociological perspective. Also both Julian and Andy are involved with the Law Society's activities on training and education. I am not.

When we were asked to write this article, an immediate concern was would Andy who is involved with the Training Framework Review Group feel compromised in any way? He said not. Despite that confirmation, you can't help the feeling of looking over your shoulder.

The point about this piece is that the legal profession in the UK is concerned that it is too elitist. Yes, it is. The most successful law firms hire from a small cadre of law schools. It's no different from the US. But now the buzzwords are "diversity" and "access", moves must be made to make it appear as though the profession is opening up. My view is that it is an illusion.

The point of the TFR is to open up legal education and training so that it embraces a multitude of avenues, eg, work experience, college courses, formal training, and so on. While in theory this sounds good, we think it will result in a race to the bottom. Who can produce the fastest and cheapest route to becoming a lawyer? Will it cure the problems of access and diversity? Hardly. What we think it may do is lead to the gradual disintegration of the legal profession as other occupational groups, like accountants, decide to invade legal territory and claim it for their own, by exploiting their own legal experience and having it ratified as a legal qualification. Unlike the US, the concept of unauthorized practice doesn't really exist in the UK.

I think lawyers are opening Pandora's Box--and, of course, they won't be able to close it.

I have spent the weekend trying to give the paper an appearance of seamless continuity, as though it were written by a single author. Everytime I changed a word, a phrase or a sentence, I thought what will the reaction be? Will this be acceptable? Frankly, I don't want to have to think of these things. In part it's to do with my personality. I am not a team player, but a lone researcher. I don't have to compromise with me; with others I must. Let's put it this way, some are better at massaging egos than others...I leave it to you to decide how that works out.