7.39 The high cost of professional training in some parts of the sector, notably for solicitors and barristers, are said to be justified by the need to deliver high quality training, often with relatively low staff-student ratios, and significant investment in teaching resources. LETR research data highlight considerable dissatisfaction with cost and the way in which the system thereby limits access to the profession. This is to the detriment of aspiring pupils and trainee solicitors who spend considerable sums in pursuit of a career that they are never likely to achieve. The impact of such a waste of human and economic resources, and the barriers to development of a diverse and socially representative profession is a growing concern. In a market-based system only some elements of this problem are likely to be susceptible to regulatory influence, so a range of strategies may be necessary to address the problem.
7.40 The lack of variety in models of vocational training for solicitors and barristers restricts development of a more competitive market in vocational training. The development of more flexible approaches to training would potentially play an important role in ameliorating the cost. Measures to be considered should include:
- the further development of apprenticeships to the level 7 qualification for intending solicitors;
- development of new forms of training which integrate more of the vocational stage of training with workplace learning;
- alternative work-based learning pathways through the training contract, and the development of additional alternative pupillages, particularly in the employed sector;
- assessment of the viability of a three-year exempting degree model (for solicitors and potentially the Bar) which could substantially reduce the cost of qualification;
- whether regulators should, on equality and diversity grounds, take price, scholarships and financial assistance into account in future tendering or validation cycles.
7.41 The impact of the cost of vocational training on the future composition of the regulated workforce is also a matter of concern in the context of the economic and structural changes facing the sector and increased stratification. Cost was perceived as a barrier to taking on trainees in sole or small practices in particular, and in respect of publicly-funded services for solicitors, barristers and possibly costs lawyers as well. The impact of such changes affects not just the kind of work available for the current generation of trainees to do, but longer term access to legal services and choice of providers for consumers of legal services. Where there are fewer training places for particular types of work, fewer people are qualifying into those areas of work.
7.42 It is questionable whether the cost of training should be subsidised or borne across the profession. Separately it becomes necessary to consider whether, as in Ontario, supervised and independent paralegal services might offer a more accessible and cost-effective way of developing access to justice where the intervention of a fully qualified practitioner may not be required.