Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Training Lawyers

The College of Law has won degree-awarding powers from the Privy Council. What this actually means won't be known for some time.

The College is a strange institution. Because of the UK's archaic form of legal education, those who want to be lawyers go through two stages. An academic one, which teaches students about law and legal institutions, and a vocational stage. This latter stage is supposed to teach students how to be lawyers. They are placed in cubicles and told to pretend they are lawyers. Apparently they are trained to draft documents and interview clients. Frankly, it's all mickey mouse stuff, primarily designed to extract more money from students and act as a barrier to the legal profession. Let's be clear about one thing: there is no intellectual content to the Legal Practice Course.

With the cost of becoming a lawyer rising to over £10,000, it is hard to justify the prices institutions are charging to learn how to shuffle pieces of paper. If these vocational courses had value, either educational or professional, perhaps there would be reason for them. Most are staffed by ex-practitioners who don't know what universities are for. Rarely do they do research and in most cases they are quite supine in letting bodies like the Law Society tell them what to do.

I suppose they exist in part to pretend that we have a single, cohesive legal profession in this country. We don't. There is, admittedly, a course that's designed for City law firms. And perhaps that will lead to more fragmentation. Andy Boon, Julian Webb and I wrote a piece about this in 2005.

Doing basic training, however, doesn't justify pretensions towards being a university. The day that the College of Law starts producing first-rate research will be the prime indicator for that. The basic rule is that universities produce knowledge. At the moment the College is no more than a legal further education college.

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