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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Educating Lawyers by Mr. Frumpy

The whole process of educating lawyers of the future is currently under review. This process is known as the Legal Education and Training Review or LETR in this age of the acronym! As part of that process there was a conference in Manchester, last week, at which a Canadian Academic described the profession here as frumpy and of failing to reform itself in a modern society.

According to one definition, ‘frumpy’ describes ‘a person regarded as colourless and primly sedate.’ Now most lawyers I know are neither colourless nor primly sedate. If you don’t believe me come to the Liverpool Law Society Dinner in November! I have said here on numerous occasions that lawyers need to modernize their way of working and that many are in danger of being left behind.

But I have to disagree with Wesley Pue’s comments in relation to legal education itself. He makes the bold statement that lawyers are wrong to demand a Rolls Royce education when Tata Motors would often suffice. I’m not sure whether that statement was intended to offend lawyers or Tata Motors or both, but let’s not miss the point.

Is he saying that a lower standard of legal education is not only acceptable but that it should be an aspiration?

This suggests a dumbing down of the profession which is certainly not a good thing for society or for law students themselves. The learning of law can occasionally appear be dry and unimaginative. But the best lawyers are those who not only cram information but can adopt a creative approach to the work. Society needs a strong legal profession to look after the rights of the people and to hold authorities to account. This means that the study of law requires the highest of standards.

The practice of law has changed beyond recognition over the last 30 years and there is as much a need for good business grounding as there is for pure legal knowledge. But that goes to the content not the quality of the teaching. We really need both if we are avoid developing John Grisham type characters –

“All students enter law school with a certain amount of idealism and desire to serve the public, but after three years of brutal competition we care for nothing but the right job with the right firm where we can make partner in seven years and earn big bucks.” (Rainmaker).

This whole area does indeed need updating. But what should not, ever, be compromised is quality. I would much rather hear of initiatives that will make it easier for talented students from all areas of society to qualify as lawyers without the spectre of huge debts and a derisory training contract salary.

And if that makes me frumpy I'll wear the T Shirt with pride!!


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