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.

 

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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.

 

 

Remarkable consensus at Scottish Parliament fair access event

Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2012. Licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0.This evening marked what the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession hopes will be a significant event in bringing about change that will see access to the Scottish legal profession re-opened to students from less privileged backgrounds.

At Fair Access to the Legal Profession: Questions of Justice and Education, an event in the Scottish Parliament sponsored by Marco Biagi, the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central, politicians gathered alongside law students, fair access campaigners and the legal profession’s representative bodies to discuss fair access to the legal profession.  The result was a remarkable consensus on the need for change.

The event heard from a number of speakers.  Mr Biagi spoke of his pride in being part of a government that believed in free education.  But noted that this pride should not prevent it being argued that more can be done, and that to look again at the issues around access to the diploma in professional legal practice, and other postgraduate qualifications, was consistent with the government’s commitment to properly funded education.

Mike Dailly, law centre solicitor and prominent social justice campaigner, discussed the need for change in the context of the role of the legal profession in shaping society and its laws.  Law, he said, can be a source of hope or a source of misery.  But he warned of the danger that the current funding situation is creating a timewarp sending us back to a situation where only the privileged could become lawyers.

Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland, discussed the barriers to entering the professions represented by the low participation of poorer students at undergraduate level.  He recognised the work, such as that done by the University of Edinburgh in widening access, but argued that more must be done to encourage and create incentives for this task.  And as a non-lawyer, he added his voice to the need to for parliament to make professions of societal importance, such as the legal profession, representative of Scottish society.

The event then heard two current law undergraduates speak powerfully of their own circumstances.  Suzanne spoke of the hurdles she had overcome to afford to support herself as an undergraduate and her painful realisation that she would be unable to pursue a career as a lawyers simply because she could not afford to pay to study the diploma.  Craig highlighted the telling contrast between the approach to widening access at undergraduate level, where the SNP’s abolition of tuition fees was a factor that encouraged him to go to university; with the situation for the diploma, where he now finds himself cut off from becoming a lawyer due to the absence of support with the costs of studying.

Tim Haddow, law student and CFALP campaign coordinator, concluded the formal part of the meeting, discussing the challenges of addressing the fairer access issue.  In the longer term, he argued that the legal profession must face the challenge of reforming the route to qualification to enshrine fair access.  And in the shorter term, he challenged politicians to take advantage of the government’s commitment to fair access to work for the extension of maintenance loans to diploma students.

The debate was then opened to comments from the floor.  Politicians contributing included Sarah Boyack MSP, Liam McArthur MSP, and Alison Johnstone MSP (Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green respectively).  Law students also contributed.  Mr Austin Lafferty, President of the Law Society of Scotland, spoke of his own conviction that the profession needed those from all backgrounds.  Dr Nick McKerrell, of Glasgow Caledonian University, spoke from the perspective of a ‘new’ university highlighting, among other things, the growth in the number of places on the LLB and the diploma at a time when access was becoming increasingly difficult.

Speaking after the event, Tim Haddow, CFALP campaign coordinator said:

We were absolutely delighted to have been part of tonight’s event.

What was most remarkable was the sense of consensus from the meeting.  We assembled a diverse range of participants.  And not just in political terms: the diversity of the legal profession was represented, from law centre solicitor and small law firm to some of Scotland’s largest commercial firms.  And from the Law Society of Scotland itself to the organisations representing trainees, students and newly qualified solicitors.

But all present, politicians and lawyers, were agreed on the need for change.  This event has the potential to be the start of a process that will bring about this change.  As we have argued, both politicians and the profession must act.  We hope that both groups will now take up the challenge addressing their own contributions to re-opening fair access to the legal profession.

Further information:

Mike Dailly’s reflections on the event are available on his blog here.

Law Society President among confirmed attendees at Fair Access event

The President of the Law Society of Scotland, Mr Austin Lafferty, will be among those joining law students and recent graduates at the Fair Access to the Legal Profession: Questions of Justice and Education event, sponsored by Marco Biagi MSP, at the Scottish Parliament next Tuesday.

The Law Society of Scotland’s presence will also be bolstered by the attendance of Christine McLintock, Chair of the Law Society of Scotland Council’s Education and Training committee and Liz Campbell, Director of Education and Training.

Speaking in advance of the event, CFALP Campaign Coordinator, Tim Haddow, said:

The profession itself has an important role to play in this debate, so we are delighted to welcome Mr Lafferty and his colleagues to join with us and ordinary law students and graduates to discuss the issues with our parliamentarians.

In the recent parliamentary debate, MSPs called on the government and the profession to work together.  We hope this event will represent the start of a process bringing together politicians, the profession and the universities to bring about real change in the prospects of those from less privileged backgrounds hoping to qualify as lawyers.

On behalf of the Law Society, Mr Lafferty welcomed the opportunity to attend the meeting:

I am delighted to be attending this event which I hope will provide a platform for constructive debate about how we can ensure fair access to legal education in Scotland.

My Law Society colleagues and I have expressed concerns about insufficient consultation on funding models, about the uncertainty surrounding future funding structures and the impact this uncertainty could have on students’ career choices.

I want to use this event as an opportunity to engage in discussion with not just  those in government but with universities, fair access campaigners, members of the legal profession and students to establish how we can ensure funding is made available to those who need it most.

I am proud of the diverse nature of our legal profession in Scotland and it is important that we work together to ensure anyone who wishes to enter the profession has the opportunity to do so irrespective of their social or economic circumstances.  It is diversity that ensures we have a profession that can serve the needs of society at large and I look forward to contributing to the debate on Tuesday evening.

The Scottish Law Agents Society, the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association, the Trainee and Newly Qualified (TANQ) Society, the Scottish Legal Action Group, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the informal law firm working group Learning and Development Scotland and several of the university law schools will also be represented at the event.

NUS President welcomes opportunity to contribute to debate

NUS Scotland are key advocates for wider access to undergraduate and postgraduate education.  They have been following the progress of the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession and produced a briefing paper to support the recent members’ debate in the Scottish Parliament.

NUS Scotland’s President, Robin Parker, will also be speaking at the forthcoming event Fair Access to the Legal Profession: Questions of Justice and Education, being held in the Scottish Parliament building on 23 October.

Speaking to CFALP, Robin Parker welcomed the opportunity for NUS Scotland to be involved in the debate and emphasised the need for the Scottish Parliament and employers to take proactive action to make the legal profession more reflective of Scottish Society:

NUS Scotland welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the debate on access to the legal profession. We believe that the Scottish Parliament has a responsibility, together with the universities and the professions themselves, to make access to all forms of education fairer, and take proactive action to make professions of societal importance, including the legal profession, more reflective of Scottish society.

As our recent research report, Unlocking Scotland’s Potential, found, Scottish higher education remains far too unrepresentative. This has change, and we should rightly be able to hold up a mirror to Scottish universities and see a proud reflection of Scottish society. That’s why we’ve launched our latest campaign at www.unlockscotlandspotential.org, calling on the Scottish Parliament and universities to do all they can to improve access. And when we’re looking at professions like law, employers rightly have a role to play too.

We look forward to speaking with politicians, students, fellow campaigners and members of the legal profession at this event. We hope it may mark the beginning of a process of engagement between all the relevant stakeholders and that the education and training of future lawyers may become an example of fair access to be followed by other professions.

A limited number of places at the event are available for law students and recent graduates, especially those who have been, or may be, excluded from the profession by inability to fund the DPLP. Places are also available for a cross-section of law students and legal professionals interested in the issues of fair access to the DPLP and the profession.   To register your interest in attending, please complete the online form at https://cfalp.wordpress.com/cfalp-event-23-october/event-registration/

Marco Biagi MSP: ‘Vital that route to the professions is open to Scotland’s young people’

Marco Biagi is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central, the constituency that includes the University of Edinburgh’s Law School and the Edinburgh Centre for Professional Legal Practice.  He has a strong interest in issues around access to higher and further education.

Mr Biagi is the parliamentary sponsor of the forthcoming event Fair Access to the Legal Profession: Questions of Justice and Education, being held in the Scottish Parliament building on 23 October.

Speaking to CFALP, Mr Biagi discussed why he decided to sponsor the event:

Access to education should be based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay. This is especially important in training for the professions due to their important social role. There is an ongoing need for the legal profession to be representative so that the legal system is able to fairly represent and reflect the interests of all sections of society.

The recent Member’s Debate showed the importance of this issue to MSPs from all parties. I hope that, by inviting my fellow parliamentarians to meet and hear from students, campaigners and members of the legal profession, they will be able to see very clearly the issues facing young people who might want to take up these opportunities.  I am very proud of our achievements in Scotland in making undergraduate education free of tuition fees and providing sufficient financial support for students to live on, and it’s vital that we all keep to the spirit of that commitment and ensure the whole route to the professions is open to Scotland’s young people.

A limited number of places at the event are available for law students and recent graduates, especially those who have been, or may be, excluded from the profession by inability to fund the DPLP. Places are also available for a cross-section of law students and legal professionals interested in the issues of fair access to the DPLP and the profession.   To register your interest in attending, please complete the online form at https://cfalp.wordpress.com/cfalp-event-23-october/event-registration/

Speakers announced for Scottish Parliament fair access event

As recently announced, Marco Biagi MSP will host an event titled “Fair Access to the Legal Profession: Questions of Justice and Education” in the Scottish Parliament on the evening of 23 October.

Speakers for the event have now been confirmed:

Marco Biagi MSP

Marco is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central. His constituency includes the University of Edinburgh and he has a strong interest in issues around access to higher and further education.

Mike Dailly, Govan Law Centre 

Mike is a prominent solicitor and social justice campaigner.  Mike will discuss why a representative legal profession is the cornerstone of a fairer and more just society.

Robin Parker, President, NUS Scotland

NUS Scotland are key advocates for wider access to undergraduate and postgraduate education. Robin will present a non-lawyer’s perspective and discuss the links with wider issues of access to the professions. 

Tim Haddow, Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession

Tim is a mature law student and previous Vice-President of the Edinburgh University Law Students’ Council. He is a member of the steering group of the student-led Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession. Tim will discuss the issues from the perspective of law students. 

In addition to short talks from the speakers above, the event will also hear from law students affected by the financial hurdles in the route to qualification as a lawyer. The formal part of the evening will include opportunity for MSPs, speakers, law students and other invited guests to discuss the issues raised informally over tea and coffee.

A limited number of places at the event are available for law students and recent graduates, especially those who have been, or may be, excluded from the profession by inability to fund the DPLP. Places are also available for a cross-section of law students and legal professionals interested in the issues of fair access to the DPLP and the profession. 

To register your interest in attending, please complete the online form at https://cfalp.wordpress.com/cfalp-event-23-october/event-registration/