At the Blackhall Place launch of the new course on 1 June, Law Society President Michelle Ní Longáin, Richard Hammond (Education Committee Chair) and TP Kennedy (Director of Education) welcomed attendees and introduced the changes, while Prof Andy Unger (London South Bank University) Prof Elaine Hall and Pro Vice-Chancellor Jonny Hall (Northumbria University) also spoke about the rebooted solicitor-training format
There is a period of transition and change ahead, attendees heard, but it will be the job of the faculty educators and training managers to assist and support future members of the profession in finding that education challenging, inspiring, interactive, dynamic, relevant, and appropriate to real-world practice.
Colette Reid (Law School course manager and skills leader) spoke on the fused PPC’s four pillars of professional development, which have the goal of providing a foundation and framework for next-generation solicitor training.
The four pillars are:
- Knowledge and analytical thinking (as in, knowing the rules and the law),
- Skills, including presentation and communication skills, interviewing and advising, drafting, etc,
- Psychological and emotional development, and
- Professional responsibility.
The new approach will help students to ‘join up the dots’, Colette Reid said.
“We want to see solicitors coming out who are capable, creative-thinking, resilient team-workers,” she said.
The boundaries of the four pillars are fluid, however, and will be developed in an organic fashion.
In many years of working with trainee solicitors, the lecturer said that she had learned to appreciate how much students bring to the table.
“I think we need to appreciate that, and realise what we have already ‘got in the room’ that we can work with,” she said.
‘Psychology of the Lawyer’
Antoinette Moriarty (head of psychological services at the Law School) said that the process of learning itself is very complex and it involves much internal development.
“To be able to think and gather in new information, and make sense of it in an integrated fashion, and then bring out an opinion requires a huge amount of psychological processing,” Moriarty said.
Learning requires psychological robustness, she added.
The fused PPC will have a semester module called ‘Psychology of the Lawyer’, she explained, and its goal is to develop flexible, receptive, responsive, communicative, and empathetic lawyers.
John Lunney (Law School) spoke about the pillar of professional responsibility, and how the competing elements of professional and ethical obligations of being a solicitor are resolved.
“We want to look at ethics and conduct in a wider frame than just what's written in the book,” he said.
Letting students make up their own minds about how to act in a certain situation will be part of that embracing of a wider view of an ethical lawyer, he explained.
The cultivation of critical reflection on the role of the solicitor in society, and on the concept of justice itself, is key, Lunney said.
Dr Geoffrey Shannon (deputy director of education) said that the Law School team is committed to developing an exam system that mirrors the innovations introduced on the fused PPC course.
Historically, there has been a focus on knowledge acquisition, but now there will be a cultural change in terms of skills assessment, he said.
This has involved looking internationally at how best to capture learning outcomes in an exam setting.
A fit-for-purpose course with matching assessment models is what the Law School is aspiring to, he added.
Wide range of reliable tests
Assessments must be fair and valid, and highly experienced external examiners will ensure that what is being asked of trainees is doable within the context of the training with which they are provided.
Assessment should also be extended beyond cognitive issues to the more complex concept of professionalism, which requires a wide range of reliable tests, he said.
The work of other professions will be used for guidance in this regard, he said, with an inventive and imaginative approach to measuring professionalism and professional competence.
The additional skills that make a good lawyer will also be in scope, he said. Oral advocacy, peer evaluation, performance evaluation, and simulated client evaluations will all be included on the skills dimension of the four-pillars model, he said.
These will provide a greatly enhanced means by which to determine professional competence, Dr Shannon said, with robust oversight by external examiners.
There must be a sensible balance between over-assessment, and learning without assessment, he concluded.