Report recommends new body to oversee legal training

Minister welcomes proposal allowing for providers outside Law Society and King’s Inns

The monopoly roles played by the Law Society and the Society of King’s Inns in providing professional training to become, respectively, solicitors and barristers, would end under recommendations made in a new report.

The two societies have played monopoly roles in training for the professions since long before the foundation of the State.

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) has proposed a new statutory framework for the education of lawyers, under which a single body would be responsible for the setting and maintaining of legal educational standards.

The two societies would be required to reach these new standards, but any other educational provider that also met the standards would be allowed to provide education for the two professions.

A new independent body, the Legal Practitioners Education and Training Committee, is recommended in the report, which is called Setting Standards: Legal Practitioner Education and Training.

The committee would ensure that existing providers of legal education adhere to the new standards, but also “scrutinise and accredit new providers of legal education”.

The report recommends reforms that would, for the first time, define the competence and standards required to practise as a solicitor or barrister.

It follows on from an earlier report that identified indirect barriers to entry into the two professions, and the existence of unnecessary duplication in learning and assessment.

The report notes there has been a series of earlier reports from other bodies recommending reform, including a 2006 report from the Competition Authority that said the education of solicitors and barristers should be regulated independently of the profession.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has welcomed the proposal to widen the opportunities for legal education.

“I am determined that there should be more equity and diversity in access to the legal professions and in their education and training structures,” she said.

“We must address those financial and administrative barriers that aspiring lawyers continue to face at the outset of their careers for once and for all.”

A number of the submissions made to the LSRA argued that people who had already obtained a law degree should be provided with certain exemptions in terms of subsequent legal professional training.

In its submission, the Association of Judges of Ireland said it had “significant concerns” about a proposed scheme where “commercial service providers” could be determining whether standards and competencies had been met.

The judges expressed concern that “a proliferation of service providers might undermine the ability of existing providers to maintain their standards”, according to the report.

The judges’ association also said the King’s Inns and Law Society schools were run on a not-for-profit basis and that it was “uneasy that the provision of professional legal training might be seen as an opportunity for profit”.

In its submission, the McCann Fitzgerald law firm welcomed the proposal that the "effective monopoly of the Law Society in the education and training of solicitors should be removed".

“We believe that the introduction of other providers, and so the introduction of some level of competition, will be a positive development for the legal profession. It should also facilitate the provision of training duly tailored to the needs of the various areas of practice in the profession.”

A separate report, also published by the LSRA, concludes it would be premature to recommend that the two branches of the legal profession be unified.

In a report entitled Greater than the Sum of its Parts – Consideration of Unification of the Solicitors’ Profession and Barristers’ Profession, the authority said it would return to a consideration of this matter in five years.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent