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LSRA publishes reports on legal practitioner's education and training and unification of the legal professions in Ireland

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The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) has recently published two separate reports with recommendations to the Minster for Justice in fulfilment of its statutory mandate to ensure the maintenance and improvement of standards in the provision of legal services by legal practitioners in Ireland.

First report: Setting Standards: Legal Practitioners Education and Training: This outlines the need for a clear definition of the competence and standards required to practise as a solicitor or barrister in Ireland. The LSRA recommends the establishment of an independent legal practitioner education and training (LPET) committee, which would set up a competency framework for education and training. The proposed new committee would develop standards for legal practitioner education and training and monitor the quality of the legal practitioner education and training being provided.

The establishment of this statutory framework and the LPET committee would allow new providers of legal practitioner education and training to be accredited to provide professional training for solicitors and barristers. This would represent a significant change to the current system of professional legal education in Ireland for solicitors and barristers.

Second Report:  Greater than the Sum of Its Parts? Consideration of Unification of the Solicitors' Profession and Barristers' Profession: In this report, the LSRA concludes that it is of the view that the solicitors' profession and barrister's profession should not be unified at this time. It states in its report, that at this stage in its regulatory timeline, it would be premature to recommend that the two branches of the profession be unified.

The LSRA considered the public interest, the need for competition in the provision of legal services in Ireland and the proper administration of justice when arriving at its conclusion in respect of the unification of the professions in Ireland. The LSRA has undertaken to return to the matter of unification within five years, when they anticipate that the legal services landscape will have evolved sufficiently in order for it to reconsider the idea of unification of the solicitors and barristers profession.

The recent recommendations by the LSRA were not unexpected by many legal professionals. Currently there are only two organisations in Ireland which provide legal professional training; the Law Society for solicitors and the King’s Inns for barristers. The legal training courses provided by these two organisations are the only two routes available in Ireland for individuals who wish to practise in these professions.

Reports commissioned by the Competition Authority in 2003 and 2006 recommended that "no single regulatory body should have a monopoly on providing professional education and training necessary for gaining admission to a profession". They also recommended that the education of solicitor and barristers should be regulated independently and proposed the formation of a new independent body to set standards for solicitor and barrister training in Ireland.

The LSRA examined the issues raised in these reports after it was set up in 2016 and commissioned Hook Tangaza, an independent legal consulting, research and advisory company based in the UK to carry out a review. The Hook Tangaza review found evidence of the lack of clarity surrounding the competencies required to act as a solicitor or barrister in Ireland. They also found evidence of indirect barriers to entry into these legal professions and a lack of independent oversight of the education system. These findings prompted further consultations by the LSRA with stakeholders in legal sector, which in turn has led to these two reports being published.

The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee has welcomed the publication of the two reports and has committed to working with the LSRA to drive reform of legal education. Ms McEntee has asked the LSRA to further consider economic and other barriers faced by young solicitors and barristers, while asking for further examination in the following areas:
  • The remuneration of trainee barristers and solicitors
  • The other costs associated with joining each profession
  • The information available to prospective trainee barristers and solicitors on available masters and solicitors firms
  • The information available on the terms and conditions available, and how they are selected
  • Any other barriers faced by young barristers and solicitors, including the ability to take maternity leave
The full reports published by the LSRA on 19 November 2020 can be found below:

Section 34 - ET - Final Report to Minister
Section 34 - Unification - Final Report to Minister
 
Written by Zoe Richardson and Ella Whyte. 

 
 

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