A Fair Access Route to Qualification: First Steps Taken?

As those who have been following the CFALP campaign will know, our main focus has been on lobbying the Scottish Government to extend student maintenance loans to DPLP students.  We still think this is the only way to improve access to the legal profession in the short-term.  But at CFALP’s October event in the Scottish Parliament, we also challenged legal professionals as to whether they were committed to fair access and, if so, what steps they could take to reform the route to qualification to put fair access at its heart.

SYLA President Fiona McAllister with CFALP reps Heather Naismith and Tim Haddow at the Law Society officesFollowing that event, Austin Lafferty, President of the Law Society of Scotland, invited us to meet him and some members of his team.  Accompanied by Fiona McAllister (President of the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association (SYLA)), Tim Haddow and Heather Naismith, members of the CFALP Steering Group, met with Mr Lafferty this afternoon. The Law Society Of Scotland was represented by Mr Lafferty, Richard Henderson (a member of the Society’s Education and Training Committee) and Liz Campbell (the Society’s Director of Education and Training).

At the meeting, CFALP discussed their campaign for fair access so far and the need for reform of the route to qualification if the problem is to be solved in the longer-term. Reform may also help address some of the other issues with the current route to qualification including the mis-match between DPLP graduates and available training contracts.  CFALP proposed that the Law Society should adopt, as a policy goal, a requirement that the route to qualification should enshrine fair access, providing a level playing field for all with the talent and ambition to become lawyers, regardless of personal (or family) financial background.

We were delighted that Mr Lafferty and his colleagues broadly welcomed this proposal. In particular, we were pleased to encounter no suggestion that the recent five-year review of the route to qualification should be seen as the last word in reform, or needed to be left to ‘bed in’ before any further changes could be contemplated.  The meeting agreed that CFALP and SYLA would cooperate in putting together a paper to go before the Law Society Council in the near future which would invite the Society to adopt a fair access policy along the lines proposed by CFALP.  If adopted, this would start a further process of review and reform, which would look to generate proposals that met the requirements of the profession and the needs of law firms whilst also ensuring there are no unfair financial barriers to entering the profession.

After the meeting, Tim Haddow, CFALP Campaign Coordinator and Steering Group Member, said:

This was a really positive meeting. I was encouraged that Mr Lafferty and the Law Society representatives were so supportive of our call for the need for fair access to be enshrined in the route to qualification. I look forward to working with SYLA, the Law Society and others to develop a proposal that can go before Council.

We recognise that, assuming a fair access policy is adopted, any review and subsequent reform of the route to qualification will not be quick or straightforward. It is not a simple problem to solve and the length of the previous review is testament to the difficulty of meeting all the requirements. It will also be important to ensure that all those involved with the education and training of prospective lawyers are fully supportive of any proposed solution or solutions. Nonetheless, we are delighted that the meeting understood the need for change and that we now have concrete proposals for starting a process that may see that change come about.

 

New Year, Next Steps

Edinburgh Fireworks, by Kirsty McWhirter. Some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)The public side of our campaign has been quiet since in October. But the start of the new year is a good time to review our progress so far and look ahead to the next steps in the campaign.

For much of 2012, our campaign has focused primarily on the issue of student support to DPLP students. This is the single biggest financial hurdle on the route to qualification. Regrettably, the Scottish Government have refused to acknowledge or engage with a discussion on the way in which the current funding arrangements work against fair access to the profession. This is all the more disappointing given the support we have had from politicians of all parties and organisations such as NUS Scotland.

Having written to the Minister concerned, secured a debate in Parliament and hosted an event in the Scottish Parliament, we have exhausted most of the formal routes for lobbying the Scottish Government, although we’d be keen to hear from anyone else with ideas on this.  In the meantime, we will keep lobbying behind the scenes where we have established contacts and whenever we can identify opportunities to raise the issues again in the public forum (such as last week’s Herald article on access to the legal profession).

However, as discussed at the October event, the funding issue is not the only hurdle to fair access. The legal profession is responsible for regulating the route to qualification so, in the longer-term, it must be the profession itself that takes responsibility for ensuring all can compete on a level playing field, regardless of their personal or family financial circumstances. There are also other issues related to access to the profession – such as the mis-match between DPLP graduates and available traineeships – that the funding issue would not resolve.

Over the next few months, CFALP hopes to encourage debate within the profession on this topic.  As part of this, we have been invited to meet Mr Lafferty, the President of the Law Society of Scotland, on Monday 21 January, together with some of the key people within the Society with responsibility for Education and Training.  We are also grateful for the support of the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association and the Trainee and Newly Qualified Society for this meeting.

CFALP Campaign Coordinator, Tim Haddow, said:

One of the real positives from our Scottish Parliament event in October was the level of interest and support shown by the profession and the Law Society for Scotland. This meeting has come about from the contacts established at that event and CFALP welcomes the opportunity to discuss fair access to the profession and our campaign with those at the very top of the Law Society.