Competence and outcomes in professional education

4.7     Formal competencies are commonly adopted in both educational and workplace environments to set out what a professional should be able to understand and to do. These set the standard of initial competence to practise, and may be used for:

  • setting the outcomes of educational programmes;
  • accrediting prior experience and/or certificated learning, and
  • benchmarking continuing professional development.

4.8     Internationally, competency- or outcomes-based approaches to education and training have been adopted by a range of professions and occupations, including medicine and accountancy,[1] and have been developed for legal education and training in a number of other predominantly common law jurisdictions,[2] notably Australia, Canada and Scotland.[3] It is also at an early stage of development in the USA.

Competence and outcomes in medical and accountancy education

4.9     Within professional education, the most highly developed competency- and outcomes-based approaches are in the health and social care sector, where the risks from incompetent practice are particularly high. Interest in competency-based approaches to medical education can be traced back to at least the late 1960s/early 1970s (see McGaghie et al, 1978). Peak regulatory bodies such as the General Medical Council (2009), the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the Australian Medical Council have prepared outcomes-based standards for medical school accreditation, and, in some instances there have also been moves to outcomes-based approaches for postgraduate training.[4]

4.10     The motivations for adopting, in short hand terms, OBET – outcomes-based education and training – in medical education have included a mix of educational and policy objectives, including the need to:

  • develop training beyond the limits of content-based curricula – particularly to avoid the risks of curriculum overload in the context of ever-expanding medical knowledge – and to address the historic failure to ensure sufficient learning in areas of patient safety and professionalism (Davis, 2003; Scicluna et al, 2012);
  • achieve and demonstrate better alignment between education and training and health care quality objectives (Swing, 2007; General Medical Council, 2010);
  • enable education and training systems to respond more readily to future changes in the practice environment (Spencer and Jordan, 2001; Burge, 2003);
  • develop a foundation for international standards and the ‘meta-recognition’ of institutions and programmes (‘accrediting the accreditors’) (Karle, 2006; Stern et al, 2010).

4.11     Over the years that medical education has been developing competency- and outcomes-based approaches there has been a gradual but significant shift in emphasis. First, there has been a growing recognition that effective medical education must be more than a scientific education, one that also develops the doctor’s capacity to understand and respond to the clinical, ethical, personal and social dimensions of illness and disease (Callahan, 1998; Harden et al, 1999). Second, that medical education needs to focus more on the doctor’s accountability to and partnership with patients and the wider profession (Frank and Danoff, 2007; Stern et al, 2010; General Medical Council, 2009). In responding to these changes, competence has become redefined to emphasise its complex, dynamic, developmental, and context-dependent nature (Epstein and Hundert, 2002; Frank et al, 2010).


Table 4.2: Professional competencies in medicine (Epstein and Hundert, 2002)


Dimension Attribute
Cognitive Core knowledge

Basic communication skills

Information management

Applying knowledge to real world situations

Using tacit knowledge and personal knowledge

Abstract problem-solving

Self-directed acquisition of new knowledge

Recognising gaps in knowledge

Generating questions

Using resources

Learning from experience

Technical Physical examination skills

Surgical/procedural skills
Integrative Interpreting scientific, clinical and humanistic judgements

Using clinical reasoning strategies appropriately

Linking basic and clinical knowledge across disciplines

Managing uncertainty
Context Clinical setting

Use of time
Relationship Communication skills

Handling conflict


Teaching others
Affective/moral Tolerance of ambiguity and anxiety

Emotional intelligence

Respect for patients

Responsiveness to patients and society

Habits of mind Observation of one's own thinking, emotions and techniques


Critical curiosity

Recognition of and responsive to cognitive and affective biases

Willingness to acknowledge and correct errors


4.12     Epstein and Hundert’s (2002) multi-dimensional model shown in Table 4.2 illustrates this multi-faceted understanding of competence.[5] Based on a meta-review of research into professional competencies in medicine, the table shows competence as built on a foundation of medical knowledge, clinical skills and moral development. Following Schön (1984), the authors assert that professional competence is particularly defined by ‘the ability to manage ambiguous problems, tolerate uncertainty, and make decisions with limited information’ (2002:227).

4.13     This richer conception of competence is reflected in the range of knowledge, skills and attributes incorporated in a growing range of modern competence frameworks. However, there is still a tendency within some, particularly more task-based, competence frameworks to focus on a relatively narrow range of cognitive competencies, leaving the development of soft skills and meta-competencies[6] implicit. This may mean that insufficient attention is given to those skills and meta-competencies in the education and training process.

4.14     The focus on competence, and the broadening of objectives to include training around soft skills and professionalism, has also supported innovation in medical education (see, eg, Cavenagh et al, 2011). Elements of problem-based and case-based learning, simulation, independent learning, small group work, clinical skills sessions, ward-based teaching, sessions in general practice, and computer-based learning are all commonly used, and can be ‘bundled’ in ways that support students’ differing learning styles and preferences. Capacities for critical evaluation, reflection, communication and teamwork are assessed alongside more conventional knowledge-based requirements, using a variety of assessment tools, including OSCEs[7] and learning portfolios. There is some evidence that those degree programmes that are most strongly outcomes-based may be more effective at delivering interns who are training-ready (Davis, 2003; Scicluna et al, 2012).

4.15     At the same time, there is a sense that medical education and training could do more, especially to bridge the gap between knowledge-led and experiential learning, and to prepare students for community-based practice. These challenges tend to be seen as evidence of a need to strengthen the outcomes of medical education, rather than failure of an outcomes-led approach. Thus, in the USA, the recent Carnegie Foundation report on medical education (Clarke et al, 2010) called for a range of reforms to US medical education, including further standardisation around competencies. The independent Lancet Commission on the Education of Health Professionals for the 21st Century (2011) has similarly called for the adoption of competency-based curricula globally.

4.16     Accountancy education has also moved towards competence-led approaches since the mid-1990s. This can be seen in a number of initiatives, including work by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC, 1994; 1996), the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA, 1998; 2012), and two influential reports by Kelly et al (1999), examining accounting education in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and by Albrecht and Sack (2000) in the USA. These criticised existing education systems for failing properly to equip students for modern business and social needs.

4.17     The arguments mustered in support of a move towards competency-led approaches in accountancy demonstrate important parallels with the debate about LSET. Developments in information technology, economic globalisation and investor concentration, in ‘knowledge forces’ – the expansion and greater accessibility of (new) knowledge – and the shifting demographics of the profession have been identified as key drivers for change in the training of accountants (eg, Siegel and Sorenson, 1999; Albrecht and Sack, 2000; Forristal, 2002). To deal with this environment, accountants need to possess better analytical, critical and ‘non-technical’ skills such as teamwork and communication (Albrecht and Sack, 2000; Forristal, 2002; Hassall et al, 2005), commercial and technological awareness (Siegel and Sorenson, 1999; AICPA, 2012) and the capacity for lifelong learning (AICPA, 1999).

4.18     As with medical education, competency and outcomes-based approaches are thought to provide a framework for delivering those benefits. They are also said to offer a number of other advantages over curriculum and knowledge-led approaches, including: better communication among stakeholders; increased transparency in the qualification process; better and more varied assessment methods, and a framework that can be more readily revised and updated to keep pace with the changes in the market (Forristal, 2002; Boritz and Carnaghan, 2003:35; Bolt-Lee and Foster, 2003).

4.19     The evidence from both of these professional fields thus tends to support the move to outcome-based competency models on a number of practical grounds. But it also highlights the risk of producing overly detailed and unmanageable frameworks that are unusable and unsupported by stakeholders. Design therefore is everything and the majority expert view tends to favour less detailed, more holistic, frameworks than heavily task-based competencies when addressing professional as opposed to technical education.

Outcomes in legal services education and training

4.20     The development of OBET in LSET is generally at an earlier stage than either medicine or accountancy. Stuckey et al (2007:45-47) thus describe ‘a transition from content-focused to outcomes-focused instruction … underway in legal education’. This process has been most marked in the development of vocational programmes in Australasia and the UK since the 1980s,[8] though significant attempts to define outcomes for academic legal education also exist, and there are recent initiatives in Canada, Australia, Scotland and the USA. These initiatives are now discussed in more detail.


4.21     Historically, each provincial law society has its own standards for bar admission courses, and, although subject-based requirements for law degrees in Ontario were agreed in 1957 and reviewed in 1969, no national competence framework existed until recently.

4.22     Between 2007 and 2009, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) undertook a review of the requirements for recognition of a Canadian common law degree. The review was said to be driven by four needs (Federation of Law Societies of Canada, 2009:3):

  • to ensure that admission processes for domestic and internationally trained applicants are transparent, objective, impartial and fair;
  • to articulate what law societies regard as the essential features of a lawyer’s academic preparation in the context of increasing numbers of internationally trained applicants for entry to bar admission programmes;
  • to set standards for recognition of law degrees in the context of proposals for the first new Canadian law schools in over 25 years;
  • to respond to questions about the variation in admission requirements between law societies arising in the context of federal and provincial governments’ commitments to national labour mobility and harmonised standards.

4.23     The resulting Task Force report made a total of 20 recommendations. At the centre of these is the development of a set of competencies which form the basis of a ‘national requirement’ for common law degrees, including a compulsory course on ethics and professionalism. The report also proposes a set of input measures in respect of programme design and resources, including requirements for pre-law admission, length of courses, staffing, facilities, information technology, and law library, and sets out approval, compliance and reporting processes. The proposed scheme comes fully into operation in 2015, with the period from 2012 regarded as transitional.

4.24     The Canadian Common Law Degree statement highlights the need to develop competencies in ethics and professionalism, skills, and substantive legal knowledge. The skills and knowledge areas are defined[9] as:

  • Skills competencies;
    • problem-solving;
    • legal research;
    • oral and written legal communication;
  • Substantive legal knowledge;
    • foundations of law;
    • public law of Canada;
    • private law principles.

4.25     The specification for the skills components is essentially task-based, but the specification of knowledge areas is relatively broad – more so than the Australian ‘Priestley 11’ discussed below. There are no indications as to credit loading or level for any of the required elements, though the knowledge component as a whole must comprise ‘a sufficiently comprehensive program of study to obtain an understanding of the complexity of the law and the interrelationship between different areas of legal knowledge’.

4.26     In addition to the Common Law Degree Task Force, in October 2009, the Council of the Federation approved a plan for a further project to develop national standards for admission to the legal profession in Canada (see Federation of the Law Societies of Canada 2012a, 2012b). These standards incorporate the work of the Common Law Degree Task Force (albeit in a rather different format), and also indicate the minimum outcomes expected of the bar admission programmes, thus representing what might be regarded as a set of ‘day one outcomes’ for Canadian lawyers.

4.27     The resulting standards (see Annex II) combine generic professional service skills with a list of ‘general tasks’ that applicants must be able to perform. These include a client interview, an opinion letter, the production of specific documents, and simple advocacy. They also extend the knowledge-base into procedural and adjectival law (not required as part of the LLB or JD), and into additional substantive law areas: family law, and wills and estates.[10]

4.28     There has been relatively little published debate about these initiatives. Some doubts have been expressed from within the law schools about both the processes adopted by the Task Force, and the necessity for regulation, and these are discussed later in this section.


4.29     Moves to develop competencies began with work in professional training in individual states in the 1980s, influenced by earlier innovations in British Columbia (Jones, 1994). These competencies were developed into a national framework for professional legal training (PLT) in 2000 by the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council (see APLEC, 2002). This framework is still in place and expresses competencies for a range of skills areas (lawyers’ skills; problem-solving; work management and business skills, and trust and office accounting), key practice areas (defined by transactional steps/tasks) and ‘ethics and professional responsibility’. The framework relies predominantly on outcomes, though there are a small number of input requirements (eg, prescribing that PLT courses should be at graduate level, and setting minimum hours). APLEC commenced a review of the framework in 2012. A discussion paper published in June 2012 invited views on a number of propositions, but it does not indicate any intention to move away from a predominantly outcomes-based approach (APLEC, 2012).

4.30     Requirements for the academic stage were consolidated across all Australian jurisdictions in 1991 so that satisfaction of the academic stage of training requires the equivalent of at least three years’ full-time study of law, including the so-called ‘Priestley 11’ prescribed areas of knowledge.[11]

4.31     In 2009 the Council of Australian Law Deans (CALD) supplemented the Priestly 11 with a set of ‘soft law’ standards for Australian law schools. Modelled on the American Bar Association’s (ABA) standards, these are a combination of threshold and aspirational input and outcome statements (Australian Learning and Teaching Council, 2010:12).

4.32     In December 2010, a set of six threshold learning outcomes (TLOs) were endorsed by CALD and are now being mapped by law schools against their own undergraduate curricula.[12] The TLOs are (ALTC, 2010:10):

TLO 1: Knowledge

Graduates of the Bachelor of Laws will demonstrate an understanding of a coherent body of knowledge that includes:

(a) the fundamental areas of legal knowledge, the Australian legal system, and underlying principles and concepts, including international and comparative contexts,

(b) the broader contexts within which legal issues arise, and

(c) the principles and values of justice and of ethical practice in lawyers’ roles.

TLO 2: Ethics and professional responsibility

Graduates of the Bachelor of Laws will demonstrate:

(a) an understanding of approaches to ethical decision-making,

(b) an ability to recognise and reflect upon, and a developing ability to respond to, ethical issues likely to arise in professional contexts,

(c) an ability to recognise and reflect upon the professional responsibilities of lawyers in promoting justice and in service to the community, and

(d) a developing ability to exercise professional judgement

TLO 3: Thinking skills

Graduates of the Bachelor of Laws will be able to:

(a) identify and articulate legal issues,

(b) apply legal reasoning and research to generate appropriate responses to legal issues,

(c) engage in critical analysis and make a reasoned choice amongst alternatives, and

(d) think creatively in approaching legal issues and generating appropriate responses.

TLO 4: Research skills

Graduates of the Bachelor of Laws will demonstrate the intellectual and practical skills needed to identify, research, evaluate and synthesise relevant factual, legal and policy issues.

TLO 5: Communication and collaboration

Graduates of the Bachelor of Laws will be able to:

(a) communicate in ways that are effective, appropriate and persuasive for legal and non-legal audiences, and

(b) collaborate effectively.

TLO 6: Self-management

Graduates of the Bachelor of Laws will be able to:

(a) learn and work independently, and

(b) reflect on and assess their own capabilities and performance, and make use of feedback as appropriate, to support personal and professional development.

4.33     The TLOs were drafted to encompass the Priestley 11 (by reference) into TLO 1, and in the light of the CALD Standards. They draw on a range of national and international influences, including the generic level indicators for undergraduate work in the Australian Qualifications Framework (akin to the Higher Education Qualifications Framework in England and Wales), ABA Standards, the Scottish Accreditation Framework, the Tuning Framework, and the Joint Statement and QAA Law Benchmark in England and Wales. The influence of the QAA Benchmark is particularly apparent in the framing of TLOs 1, 3, 4 and, to a more limited extent, 5 and 6. The TLOs are also supported by quite extensive notes which provide ‘non-prescriptive guidance’ on interpretation (ALTC, 2010:11). It is also suggested that, through CALD, the guidance should evolve and develop, thus strengthening ownership and legitimacy of the outcomes within the academic community.


4.34     The primary training pathway in Scotland for over thirty years has been a law degree followed by a Diploma in Legal Practice, which constitutes the first stage of professional training for both solicitors and advocates. The law degree in this model was required to deliver a substantial core of substantive law courses, while the Diploma similarly originated as a curriculum-led course, structured around eight compulsory subjects and an option.[13] In the late 1990s the Diploma was reviewed in the light of growing dissatisfaction with the course among employers, trainees and students. This led to some significant redesign work, which saw professional legal skills and ethics integrated far more with the delivery of the knowledge areas (see, eg, Maharg, 2004).

4.35     In 2006, the Law Society of Scotland commenced a further complete review of its provision for undergraduate legal education and professional training. Following extensive consultation and analysis of responses, proposals for a revised scheme of ‘Professional Education and Training’ (PEAT) were approved in 2009 and came into effect in 2011. These reforms have generally sought to increase both flexibility within and continuity between the stages of education and training, with PEAT 1 (the revised Diploma) performing a particularly critical ‘bridge’ function between the academic study of law and practice (Maharg, 2013: 125).

4.36     The underlying basis for the changes lay in the specification of a new set of learning outcomes for each of the stages of education and training. For the Foundation (‘exempting’ degree[14]) stage, the required outcomes are divided into the triumvirate of knowledge, skills, and values and attitudes (see Law Society of Scotland, 2010). The knowledge areas have been somewhat reduced, though they remain wider in scope than the Anglo-Welsh equivalent. In broad terms they are defined as:

  • legal systems and institutions affecting Scotland;
  • persons;
  • property;
  • obligations;
  • commerce;
  • crime.

4.37     Each of these areas is then further defined in the specific outcomes statement. These areas together with the general transferable and personal skills and the values components of the course (which are described as pervasive) should comprise 180 credits of the minimum 240 credits of legal subjects required.[15] The outcomes must be achieved at Ordinary degree level (level 7 or 8 on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF), equivalent to levels 4 or 5 in the Anglo-Welsh system), but there is no requirement as to the level at which any specific outcomes are achieved, and no requirement that any of the outcomes are achieved at final year (Honours) level.

4.38     Following on from the Foundation course, the new process comprises PEAT 1 (the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice) and PEAT 2 which prescribes specific outcomes for the Scottish training contract. The new Diploma programme is organised around a set of ‘mandatory’ and ‘core’ outcomes which should normally comprise 60, and no more than 80, credits at level 10 (ie, Master’s level) out of a total of 120 credits for the programme (see Law Society of Scotland, 2009). The remaining credits are made up of electives designed and specified by each provider. The mandatory outcomes are specified for six areas of work: private client, conveyancing, litigation, business, financial and practice awareness, and tax (with tax to be taught pervasively).[16] The core outcomes are defined as professionalism, professional communication, and professional ethics and standards.

4.39     The statement of professionalism is a distinctive feature of PEAT 1 and is designed to be at the core of the course and assessed pervasively. The professionalism outcomes require students to demonstrate understanding of the importance of:

  • the interests of justice and democracy in society;
  • effective and competent legal services on behalf of a client;
  • continuing professional education and personal development;
  • diversity and public service;
  • trust, respect and personal integrity.

4.40     Providers are given guidance on appropriate modes of assessment for the different areas, with the guidance placing a strong emphasis on the need to develop realistic assessment tasks. However, there is little by way of formal specification.

4.41     A further major change resulting from the reforms is the introduction of outcomes for PEAT 2. None of these is substantive law-based. Unlike England and Wales, there are no prescribed ‘seats’ for trainee solicitors, so outcomes are defined in relation to professionalism; professional ethics and standards; professional communication, and business, commercial, financial and practice awareness (Law Society of Scotland, n.d.), which can be demonstrated in the context of any appropriate area of work. These are cross-cutting outcomes which thus link PEAT 1 and PEAT 2 to construct the Diploma and training contract more deliberately as a three-year process.

4.42     An individual’s progress towards achieving the PEAT 2 outcomes is assured by a requirement of quarterly performance reviews over the two years, which assess development needs against the outcomes, and an online training record, including a reflective log, which must be completed by the trainee.[17]


4.43     It is notable that the US system has been slow to adopt any kind of co-ordinated outcomes-based approach, though a number of individual institutions and teachers have developed or experimented with OBET, including some significant early attempts at identifying lawyer competencies (notably Cort and Sammons, 1980). This position has changed following the publication of the Carnegie Foundation (Sullivan et al, 2007) and Best Practices (Stuckey et al, 2007) reports on legal education, both of which recommended outcome measures.

4.44     In direct response the ABA created a ‘Special Committee on Outcome Measures’ (the Outcome Sub-committee) in 2008 which sought views and undertook a review of the literature on outcomes in legal education and other professional fields. It recommended reframing the ABA accreditation standards ‘to reduce their reliance on input measures and instead adopt a greater and more overt reliance on outcome measures’ (ABA, 2008:1). Responding to the Outcome Sub-committee’s report, the ABA Standards Review Committee has proposed new approval criteria that would require law schools to articulate the outcomes they intend their students to achieve, to assess student learning through a range of methods, to give students meaningful feedback, and demonstrate that they (the law schools) are achieving their student learning outcome goals (ABA, 2012).

4.45     Revised Standard 302 is at the heart of the change from a curriculum-led to outcomes-led approach. Its most recent draft version requires law schools to include learning outcomes ‘as entry level practitioners’ in respect of:

(1) knowledge and understanding of substantive law, legal theory and procedure;

(2) the professional skills of:

(i) legal analysis and reasoning, critical thinking, legal research, problem solving, written and oral communication in a legal context; and

(ii) the exercise of professional judgment consistent with the values of the legal profession and professional duties to society, including recognizing and resolving ethical and other professional dilemmas.

(3) a depth in and breadth of other professional skills sufficient for effective, responsible and ethical participation in the legal profession;

(4) knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the following values:

(i) ethical responsibilities as representatives of clients, officers of the courts, and public citizens responsible for the quality and availability of justice;

(ii) the legal profession’s values of justice, fairness, candor, honesty, integrity, professionalism, respect for diversity and respect for the rule of law; and

(iii) responsibility to ensure that adequate legal services are provided to those who cannot afford to pay for them.

The process of reformulating the Standards is continuing, and the draft Standards are therefore not considered in greater detail in this section.

The critique of competence

4.46     Before moving on to evaluate these developments, it is important to recognise that, despite their growing ubiquity, competency approaches have also been heavily criticised, particularly as to the value that competencies bring to the learning process, as opposed to quality assurance and accreditation. The basis of contention goes to the roots of OBET in competency-based models of training. Competency approaches have drawn heavily on behaviourist theories of learning that have been widely criticised for a reductionist approach to learning. It has thus been argued that they risk:

  • fragmenting and over-simplifying activities by focusing on the narrower tasks which comprise elements of that activity’s performance;
  • focusing too much on observable skills rather than underlying knowledge, values, and motivations;
  • reducing the intellectual challenge of learning;
  • reducing scope for innovation in teaching and assessment (if over-specified);
  • leading to an assessment-driven curriculum;
  • reducing teachers’ sense of ownership of education and training through centralisation of standards.

(See, eg, Jones, 1994; Wolf, 1995, 2001; C. Maughan et al, 1995; Boritz and Carnaghan, 2003; Leung, 2002).

4.47     The early competency approaches were developed in the context of technical training – typified in Britain by the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs or, in Scotland, SVQs) of the 1980s and early 90s. As such they undoubtedly provided a relatively poor fit with professional work, particularly as the latter tends to build on a far greater foundation of substantive knowledge and theory. However, as Wolf (2001:466) has observed, it is important to recognise that the NVQ approach was but one version of competency-based education, and a more ‘enlightened model may have a benign rather than a malign effect on practice’. There have been various attempts to supplement or develop competencies into something much more useful for professional education. These include ‘capability’ approaches, which place greater emphasis on the need to understand and reflect on the cognitive processes and personal attributes that underpin professional action, and from which future competence is inferred (eg, Eraut and Cole, 1993; M. Maughan, 1996), and ‘integrated’ or ‘holistic’ approaches that take account of a wider range of attributes and meta-competencies (eg, Hager et al, 1994; Harden et al, 1999).[18] This shift is reflected in the tendency in some modern educational practice to distinguish at the level of terminology outcomes-based from competency-based education.

Implications for England and Wales

4.48     A number of lessons for the development of LSET in England and Wales can be drawn from this comparative analysis.

4.49     First, it can be seen that there has been significant increase in activity in developing and maintaining outcomes-based systems across medicine, common law legal education, and to a lesser extent accountancy. This is not to disregard the critical debate on the limits of OBET, but in terms of comparability with other LSET systems, any move away from outcomes-based approaches at this stage would run counter to perceived best practice (cf Sullivan et al, 2007; Stuckey et al, 2007).

4.50     Secondly, the move to more holistic approaches is said to address the main risks of reductionism in learning, though, evidentially-speaking, it is difficult to be certain that this is the case. Nonetheless, a number of the medical and accountancy studies cited above indicate that a move to OBET appears to improve the ability of trainees to apply knowledge to work situations and encourages experimentation with curricula and delivery methods. It may improve reliability of assessment techniques, rather than the reverse.[19] Moreover, from a regulatory perspective, OBET also has the potential to:

  • increase transparency of the qualification process;
  • improve standardisation and better alignment of LSET to the professions’ quality objectives;
  • increase accountability of the profession for meeting relevant training standards;
  • create a more readily adaptable LSET framework.

4.51     Thirdly, the foregoing analysis demonstrates that, although legal knowledge, skills and attributes may be differently described, there is a high level of consistency regarding the core skills and areas of knowledge required by LSET. The extent of their specification, however, varies considerably, from the ABA’s very broad specification of requirements to the detailed, task-based, specification of the Canadian competencies, and few show the multi-dimensional breadth of the more sophisticated medical models.

4.52     Fourthly, wider functions are performed by standards such as those adopted by the ABA and Canadian Task Force. These tend to go beyond the identification of threshold learning outcomes (eg, the ALTC and, in England and Wales, QAA Benchmark approaches), to address inputs, resource requirements and other elements that may contribute to the quality of provision. The importance of such standards is discussed further, below.

4.53     Fifthly, there is also marked variation in the extent to which outcomes are developed as an exercise in mapping the full process of professional formation, or in prescribing a discrete stage of training. This is apparent even in medicine, where postgraduate standards in some systems are less well developed than for medical school. It is notable that the majority of exemplars in LSET are stage-based, often reflecting the different interests and regulatory fiefdoms governing those stages. Whilst attempts to coordinate and over-specify outcomes across the piece risks limiting flexibility and the need for specialisation, a stage-based approach also risks leaving important gaps and discontinuities in the training framework. As Devlin et al (2009) observed, one of the problems with the Canadian Task Force’s exclusive focus on the degree stage is that it fails thereby to provide an ‘integrated analysis which understands the achievement and maintenance of competency as a life-long learning process’.

4.54     Finally, it can be seen that the outcomes in LSET have largely been developed through copying existing models, often drawing on exemplars from other jurisdictions, rather than on reliable evidence as to the effectiveness of OBET. In fact there has been limited specific research on or testing of legal OBET models, either before or after their introduction. This means that there is a thin evidence-base from which to draw conclusions about the impact of different models.

4.55     The opportunity now exists through the LETR to refine and develop an outcomes approach for England and Wales that will ensure that regulation is appropriately focused and targeted, and delivers flexibility as well as the necessary assurance of quality.

4.56     To develop an effective outcomes approach it is necessary (i) to identify the appropriate starting point for any outcome specification process; (ii) to identify the range of knowledge, skills and attributes that might need to be addressed (drawing on LETR research data from Chapters 2 and 3, and the comparative data identified in this chapter), and (iii) to set standards that will provide clear principles for maintaining the quality and consistency of learning. These steps are considered in the remainder of this chapter.



[1] The educational literature on outcomes-based education and training (OBE) in accounting is significantly less developed than for medicine but was considered as part of the general review of the literature relevant to this chapter. For an overview of the accounting literature, see, eg, Boritz and Carnaghan (2003); Gammie and Joyce (2009).

[2] The work of the Tuning Project, which forms part of the co-ordination activity in the European Higher Education Area, should also be acknowledged.

[3] Although Scotland is technically a ‘mixed’ legal system, its system of legal services education and training more closely follows the common law tradition and hence is considered here.

[4] Eg, the Canadian CanMEDS initiative (Frank and Danoff, 2007), and the US ACGME outcome project (Swing, 2007; Stuckey et al, 2007:47-8).

[5] This model has been selected because it is one of the most highly cited pieces within the literature on medical competencies, and professional competence more broadly (269 citations on JAMA; over 1300 on Google Scholar). Similar frameworks exist for other professions, such as the International Accounting Standards Board IES 3 description of Initial Professional Development – Professional Skills (2012).

[6] Meta-competencies are commonly described as ‘higher level’ abilities that enhance other competencies, or pull competence together (Cheetham and Chivers, 1996:24). Capacities such as ‘learning to learn’; managing uncertainty, monitoring and evaluating one’s own cognitive processes (Winterton et al, 2005:16); emotional self-regulation (Bogo et al, 2013); and Gardner’s personal, creative and emotional ‘intelligences’ (Harden et al, 1999) are all regarded as aspects of meta-competency.

[7] Objective structured clinical examination, a form of practical, usually simulation-based, assessment used primarily in medical education, but increasingly in other fields of professional education, including the QLTS.

[8] See Annex I for a comparison of the approaches taken by the existing frontline regulators in England and Wales.

[9] In the full standard each is further defined by specific activities or components of knowledge.

[10] From the commentary in the Phase One Report it appears that the requirement for ‘corporate and commercial law’ in the National Standards is regarded as equivalent to the ‘legal and fiduciary concepts in commercial relationships’ in the law degree competencies.

[11] These are: criminal law and procedure; torts; contracts; property; equity (including trusts); company law; administrative law; federal and state constitutional law; civil procedure; evidence; ethics and professional responsibility.

[12] A further set of six TLOs have been drafted and approved by CALD (March 2012) for the new Australian graduate law degree, the Juris Doctor (JD). These are closely based on the undergraduate outcomes, but with recognition that the JD is a postgraduate award and therefore that students should be performing to Masters’ level.

[13] Civil court practice; criminal court practice; financial services and accountancy; private client; professional ethics; conveyancing; practice management, and one of company and commercial practice, or public administration.

[14] In Scotland the term ‘exempting’ degree is used to describe a degree that satisfies the Law Society of Scotland’s requirements for the academic stage of training. It is therefore not the same as an exempting degree in England and Wales which is a programme combining the QLD and the vocational stage for barristers or solicitors.

[15] That is, the Foundation outcomes comprise less than half of the typical four-year Scottish degree (480 credits).

[16] Conveyancing, private client, and litigation are reserved areas of work as defined in the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980.

[17] Trainees are also required to complete a minimum of 60 hours of ‘trainee CPD’ (TCPD).

[18] Considered in Briefing Paper 1/2012.

[19] This is considered further in the section on assessment, below.