Access to Justice Arrangements Final Report – Quick Look re PLT

access-justice-volume1The Productivity Commission’s final inquiry report regarding Access to Justice Arrangements (5 September 2014) was released on 4 December 2014. You can download the report here.

I have previously discussed the draft report and some submissions to the inquiry here.

I have quickly scanned the report for what it states about practical legal training. Firstly, Recommendation 7.1 (underlining added):

RECOMMENDATION 7.1 The Law, Crime and Community Safety Council, in consultation with universities and the professions, should conduct a systemic review of the current status of the three stages 
of legal education (university, practical legal training and continuing professional development). The review should commence in 2015 and consider the: 

  • appropriate role of, and overall balance between, each of the three stages of legal education and training 

  • ongoing need for each of the core areas of knowledge in law degrees, as currently specified in the 11 Academic Requirements for Admission, and their relevance to legal practice 

  • best way to incorporate the full range of legal dispute resolution options, including non-adversarial and non-court options, and the ability 
appropriate resolution option to the dispute type and characteristics into one (or more) of the stages of legal education 

  • relative merits of increased clinical legal education at the university or practical 
training stages of education
  • regulatory oversight 
for each stage, including the nature of tasks that could 
appropriately be conducted by individuals who have completed each stage of education, and any potential to consolidate roles in regulating admission, practising certificates and continuing professional development. Consideration should be given to the Western Australian and Victorian models in this regard. 

The Law, Crime and Community Safety Council should consider the recommendations of the review in time to enable implementation of outcomes by the commencement of the 2017 academic year.

The first dot point is very interesting – Noel Jackling cites the Trew Report (1966), the Freadman Report (1969), the McDowell Report (1971), the Ormrod Report (1971) and the Victorian Joint Working Party Report (1985) as all adopting a ‘compartmentalised’ model, ‘in which the stages [of legal education] follow each other’.  A review of the three-stage model would have implications for those who have treated the three compartments as watertight in the past. I believe such a review is overdue.

Increased clinical legal education during the academic or PLT stage could have challenging consequences. I support clinical legal education for teaching and learning in law; however there are substantial administrative and financial factors associated with it. As the report observes at p. 249:

Although it has benefits, clinical legal education is very intensive in terms of staff resources, and is therefore relatively expensive when compared with more traditional university-based methods for teaching law.

I would not like to see an  approach to new requirements that might inhibit diversity, equity, and parity of access to legal education.

Regulatory oversight is also an interesting issue in PLT – I have received  feedback from PLT practitioners about  regulators’ resistance to change and innovation in teaching and learning theory and practices in PLT.

The recommendation contemplates the review of the three-stage model commencing next year and concluding before the 2017 academic year – so hold on to your hats – this will be an exciting ride!

Volume 1, p. 242 of the report includes a brief summary of ‘practical legal training and admission’.  Curiously, the report omits mention of one of the longest-serving PLT providers, the Leo Cussen Institute, when stating PLT courses ‘are offered online and throughout the country by universities, the College of Law and other select training bodies’.

Volume 1, p. 248 – the report states ‘Clinical legal education can provide more practical training’ but observes it should not just be an ‘add-on’ to the academic degree, later adding at p. 249 (underlining added):

Given the increasingly generalist role of the undergraduate law degree, a focus on elements that are specific to practising in the legal profession (as distinct from corporate or government work) could be misplaced. However, in postgraduate study (such as JDs or PLT), the use of clinical legal education to concurrently develop knowledge and skills may prove a valuable means to expedite courses while still maintaining quality.

It is not clear on first reading whether the Commission considered the work experience component of PLT. If the intention is to supplement the work experience component with clinical legal education, this may or may not solve the current problem of the shortage of work experience placements, provided the admission boards accept clinical legal education undertaken during PLT as part of the pre-admission work experience requirements. The Commission refers to the Newcastle University’s integrated program of academic, clinical legal education, and PLT, seemingly taking this as a model for what might be done. My understanding, however, is that graduates from integrated programs face difficulty in having the PLT qualification accepted for admission in some jurisdictions.

Vol 1, p. 252 – in discussing a ‘balancing’ of the three stages of legal education and training, the Commission states (underlining added):

Simply adding new elements to legal education (ADR, clinical legal education) risks driving up the cost and duration of education. Instead, the role of each of these stages in training professional lawyers should be examined. Such elements need to be incorporated or ‘embedded’ into the broader learning process. Given the tendency towards more ‘generalist’ undergraduate law degrees a tiered approach to education might be appropriate, with strengthened postgraduate or practical legal training for those who intend to practice.

This seems to contemplate a more integrated approach, but with qualifications structured for practitioners and non-practitioners. An integrated approach could have modules mandated for the practitioner stream, and to which non-practitioners could later return if they chose to qualify for practice. There might be some (not insurmountable) challenges for instructional design if an integrated approach is adopted. Consider, for example, a pervasive approach to teaching subjects such as professional responsibility and legal ethics across the curriculum – instructional designers would need to track whether learning concepts are adequately covered in both practitioner and non-practitioner streams.

So that’s a quick look – I hope to complete a more detailed examination of the report early next year, with a comparison between the final report and the submissions considered regarding PLT.


Noel Jackling, ‘Academic and Practical Legal Education: Where Next’ (1986) 4 Journal of Professional Legal Education 1.

Productivity Commission, ‘Access to Justice Arrangements – Productivity Commission Inquiry Report’ (Productivity Commission, 2014).

The Committee on Legal Education, ‘Report Of The Committee On Legal Education (“The Ormrod Report”)’ (The Committee on Legal Education, 1971).


Legal Services Council – Call for Submissions re Proposed Uniform Admission Rules

The Legal Services Council is the body responsible for making new rules under the Legal Profession Uniform Law.

New South Wales and Victoria have passed enabling legislation and the Uniform Law is expected to commence in those jurisdictions from the middle of 2015.

Members of the Admissions Committee appointed to develop proposed uniform Admission Rules are Professor Sandford Clark as inaugural Chair, and:

  • The Hon Justice Emilios Kyrou
  • The Hon Justice Richard White
  • Dr Elizabeth Boros
  • Professor Carolyn Evans
  • Mr John Littrich
  • Mr Gary Ulman

The Admissions Committee has called for written submissions regarding the consultation draft of the proposed Admission Rules.

The consultation draft is available here.

The explanatory paper is available here.

Written submissions will be accepted until 30 January 2015. These can be emailed:

You can learn more about the submission requirements and details here.

If you are involved in practical legal training or other aspects of the process for admission of person to the legal profession, I urge you to read the documents and consider lodging a submission.


“Stale Qualifications” and Admission to the Legal Profession

Earlier this year, the New South Wales Legal Profession Admission Board  approved amendments to admission rules, which will take effect from 1 January 2015. You can read the NSW LPAB’s update here.

Admission to the Australian legal profession requires candidates to show they have the required academic qualifications, satisfactorily completed practical legal training, and meet “suitability” requirements.

In essence, the LPAB’s amendments require that completion of academic and PLT requirements occurred in the 5 years before application for admission. Applicants with “stale” qualifications will be required to apply to have their qualifications assessed.

The amendments seem consistent with the Law Admissions Consultative Committee “Uniform Admission Rules 2014”, in particular Schedule 3, “Common Considerations Relevant to Stale Qualifications”.

I have not checked, but I expect that jurisdictions other than New South Wales would adopt similar amendments. As always, information supplied here is of a general nature, and not legal advice. It is always prudent to check the law applicable to your particular circumstances, at the earliest opportunity.

LACC supplies a list of admitting authorities here.



Productivity Commission 2014, Access to Justice Arrangements, Draft Report Overview

Access to Justice Arrangements Productivity Commission Draft RepThe Productivity Commission has released its, ‘Access to Justice Arrangements, Draft Report Overview’.

The terms of reference include:

  1. the factors that contribute to the cost of legal representation in Australia, including analysis of:
    1. the supply of law graduates and barriers to entering the legal services market…

The overview records DRAFT RECOMMENDATION 7.1:

The Commonwealth Government, in consultation with state and territory governments, jurisdictional legal authorities, universities and the profession, should conduct a holistic review of the current status of the three stages of legal education (university, practical legal training and obtaining a practising certificate). The review should consider:
•    the appropriate role of, and overall balance between, each of the three stages of legal education and training
•    the ongoing need for the ‘Priestley 11’ core subjects in law degrees
•    the best way to incorporate the full range of legal dispute resolution options, including non-adversarial and non-court (such as tribunal) options, and the ability to match the most appropriate resolution option to the dispute type and characteristics, into one (or more) of the stages of legal education
•    the relative merits of increased clinical legal education at the university or practical training stages of education
•    the nature of tasks that could appropriately be conducted by individuals who have been admitted to practise but do not hold practising certificates.”

A “holistic review” of the “three stages” of legal education might produce interesting further recommendations, particularly in respect of “increased clinical legal education” at the university or practical training stages”.

I wonder, assuming the intent is to improve access to legal education as part of the broader access to justice project, whether increased clinical legal education requirements might actually reduce numbers able to apply for admission to the profession (or is that the idea?). I anticipate additional legal clinics would need to be established and the resources for these must come from somewhere.

I support the quest for expanded clinical legal education and work experience opportunities, but substantial resources must be allocated to these. In the current economic and political environment, one wonders if the will is there. And if the will is not there, what are the consequences for diversity, equity, parity, and social justice in legal education?



#aplec2013 Day 2 Parallel Session

Postcards from the Edge: Proposed DIY Devolutionary Changes to PLT in Hong Kong

Jack Burke

City University Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, law graduates are required to complete a post-graduate certificate in laws program to be eligible for admission to the profession. The Law Society of Hong Kong proposes to introduce a qualifying exam, with the aim of ensuring uniform standards. The timing of the examination is yet to be decided pending a consultation process. Uncertainty about the timing of such an exam raises the prospect of graduates being able to qualify for admission without completing a practical legal training requirement. In the present circumstances many law graduates are unable to obtain placements in the post-graduate certificate program. Jack argued against the potential abolition of mandatory practical legal training, and canvassed other approaches to ensuring uniform standards and parity of access to PLT and admission processes.

UK LETR 2013 – found current model of doctrinal law degree followed by post-graduate skills training works well. Recommendation that current system of apprenticeships be extended. Also recommended for greater focus on professional competencies, e.g. professionalism, professional standards, learning attainment, reflection, emotional intelligence, dealing with uncertainty. Concern with standardisation and integrity – query whether centrally-based assessment should be adopted. Urged great consultation between stakeholders, e.g. profession, educators, regulators, trainees etc. Need for greater consistency between what is taught and what occurs in practice.

Ontario – has system of articled training. 2012 report ‘Pathways to the Profession: A Roadmap for the Reform of Lawyer Licensing in Ontario’. Perceived problems with articles – patchy work experiences, large firm focused, lack of effective feedback and instruction to clerks, single rotation in one practice area common. Reports that good training is excellent experience, but inconsistency in quality of training. Collecting data over 5 years re merits of pathways to admission. Separate minority report recommended that articles be abandoned because outdated, inconsistent. Recommended introduction of some online instruction.

USA – educational debt and high graduate unemployment is the current crisis. American Bar Association Draft Report (2013) – urging move from academic to vocational focus in JD programs. What would be the outcome of shifting away from doctrinal study?

Hong Kong – discussion of introducing a bar exam in 2018. Not clear whether in place of or in addition to the PCLL. Is the real issue a lack of standards, or a shortage of PCLL places? Situation in Hong Kong, many students do law school and PLT overseas and then seek to return to Hong Kong to practice. About 2000 students with law degrees, but only 600 PCLL places each year! PCLL is 26 week long intensive skills training. Benchmarked by law society and bar association. 1:10 teaching ratio; primarily F2F with some online instruction. Redmond Roper Report 2001 – identified problems in PCLL – criticised for overly being academic – since then instruction largely skills based and interactive.  Law society very interactive with PCLL – external academic advisers (EAAs) assess all exam scripts, and check marked assessments before signing off on results, must vet all PCLL course materials. EAAs sit in on instruction and evaluate instructors. Personal experience of this is a bit scary but has improved standards of teaching. Standing committee on legal education and training.

Jack argues for increased training places in Hong Kong and against abolition of PLT requirement.


Solicitor, Barrister, Lawyer or …?

My friends on Twitter have been discussing the nomenclature we use to describe members of the legal profession (the polite nomenclature, that is). I wrote a thing about it.