CLE15: John Hodgson – What is a solicitor (PH)

by Pamela Henderson on 20/06/2015

John is a Reader in Law here at NLS.

John explored the changes taking place in the legal profession, specifically in the context of solicitors in England & Wales.

He started by explaining that solicitors are those looking to make lots of money, not Ladies of the Night!  Thanks for clearing that up, John.

Even with that narrower focus, John acknowledged that solicitors are a very diverse group of people, working in a range of public and private environments and doing different sorts of work.  He reminded us of the different ways in which people have qualified in recent years, including the CILEx route, which is often overlooked.  He also offered one of the simplest and clearest explanations I have heard of the Legal Services Act, LETR entity regulation and individual regulation and how these inter-link.

I was interested to hear more about the different dialogues around regulation and access to the profession e.g. is it about opening up the profession to people who may otherwise never enter it, or is it about maintaining quality (and are these two as mutually-exclusive as some proponents seem to assume)?

John spoke about the problems he perceives with the new Day 1 Outcomes:  the substantive law content (including the familiar foundation subjects) and some very defined practice areas (e.g. Tax, Probate, Criminal Litigation) – John commented that a lot of very common practice areas are not included, notably such areas as Immigration, Welfare, Family and Employment, even though more solicitors work in these areas than in Crim Lit.  John also commented that these omitted areas affect some of the poorest members of society i.e. those that other presentations in this Conference have already identified as struggling to access legal support and, hence, JUSTICE.  It was a very intriguing exploration of how and why the substantive law areas have been determined.

John moved on to discuss the apprenticeship model, namechecking Mayer Brown who have set up a special programme to recruit a single apprentice.  They want high A levels grade and a law degree integrated into their training contract.  Is this just a way to ‘do the right thing’ by bringing in a ‘kid from the projects’?  Will this succeed?  Is it what we want to see as our preferred option?

John questionned whether we want to find ourselves in the position where additional individuals will be entitled to call themselves ‘solicitor’, but without the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience of traditional solicitors.  He suggested that some of them might more accurately be described as ‘legal technicians‘.  That’s a term that I think is more widely used in the US, though I suspect that John had in mind something more along the lines of the commoditisation of legal services envisaged by Richard Susskind, where individuals would still largely be supervised by other lawyers.

John then posed the question:  What are the implications of this for access to justice?

Interesting anecdote from a delegate whose work history is non-traditional albeit ‘legal’ and so, even as a qualified solicitor holding a law degree, could not set up a firm on her own (even though the SRA is proposing to let into the profession individuals who may not even hold a law degree, but who will be able to set up a firm).  A very curious gap there!

Another comment:  what are we, the legal educators, doing as agents for change to enhance access to the profession and justice?  The apprenticeship model is a rather narrow view and fails to see the bigger picture.  For example, it may not be a viable option for individuals (still mostly women) who need to work part time and combine work with parenting responsibilities.  This seems to be another curious gap given the number of women undertaking law degrees or seeking to enter the profession by other routes.

Another comment:  will small and niche practices continue to stick to recruiting traditionally qualified individuals?  Larger organisations might be able to recruit from a more diverse demographic in terms of education and qualifications, because they can take the risk that some appointments may not be successful.



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