18 JANUARY 1873, Page 8


THE world is waiting in somewhat anxious suspense to dis- cover how far Lord Selborne will justify in office the high expectation that has been formed of his courage and capacity as a Law Reformer. We do not in the least know how far he will confirm or disappoint the wishes of his sanguine friends, but there is an encouraging omen, at all events, to be derived from the victory which he, though absent in the body from the ranks of the Legal Education Association, yet present in the spirit, has won over the pachydermatous conser- vatism of the Inns of Court. For though the Benchers of the Inns have moved, in fact, slowly and reluctantly, and have stopped very far short of the point to which the public desires to push them, their pace has been marvellously quickened since they perceived that the Legal Education Association had got the ear of the country, and was likely to get, through Sir Roundell Palmer's unprecedented authority in Parliament, the ear of the House of Commons. A dozen years or so ago, the early and feeble signs of public interest in education for the Bar stirred up the Inns of Court to establish the Consolidated Rules, the Readerships, and the Council of Legal Education. It is notorious that this organisation, with its scheme of permissive alternatives, never acquired, for it was not intended to possess, a real vitality. It acted, however, sufficiently well as a blind, and screened from the public view the actual continuation of the old system. Nor unless the Legal Education Association had taken up the question and obtained Sir Roundell Palmer as an exponent of its views, would the country ever have come, as we believe, clearly to understand that in spite of all the pompous apparatus of Council, and Lectures, and Studentships, and Examinations, a man could still be called to the Bar and licensed, as of course, to practise, without ever opening a legal text-book, mastering a legal principle, or even un- tying a bundle of papers in a barrister's chambers. It was the great merit of the Legal Education Association and of Sir Roundell Palmer that this fact was insisted upon until at length the lay public began to catch its meaning, and to apprehend the full extent of its mischievous absurdity. Then it immediately became plain that the proposals of the Associa- tion would receive a large measure of support in Parliament, and would be backed by the strong approval of laymen out- side. In this position the Inns of Court saw that- it was necessary to yield something, but the demands of the Associa- tion went far beyond their conception, not to say their accept- ance. The Association proposed to establish, in concert with the Universities, a General School of Law, in which the best legal teaching would be accessible to all comers, and a system of examination in the practical branches of Law as qualification for any branch of the legal profession. The Benchers declined to admit the notion that a common education could be given to barristers and solicitors, but as the issue had been distinctly raised, they could not refuse to adopt for the Bar an examina- tional test somewhat similar to that to which "the lower branch of the profession had long been subject." The altera- tion of the Consolidated Rules of the Inns insisting upon such an examination was to take effect as to all students entering after Michaelmas Term, 1871.

This was the first important step gained in the contest

between the Educational Reformers and the Inns of Court, and it was won solely by the menace of action on the part of the Legal Education Association. But as the rest of the reforms demanded by the Association remained ungranted, as nothing had been done to found a General School of Law, or even to transfer the administration of the inadequate existing system from the irresponsible government of the Inns to a responsible and fairly-selected governing body, and as the Ministry declined, on the ground of want of time, to take up the question in the Session of 1872, Sir Roundell Palmer brought forward, on the 1st of March last, two resolu- tions, the one recommending the foundation of a School of Law as a teaching body, the other advising the establishment of an examining and licensing body for the practice of law in any of its branches. The Resolutions were rejected, but by a narrow majority, and mainly on the plea put forward by Sir John Coleridge, that it would be well to wait and see what the effect of the debate on the Inns of Court would be. Mr. Gladstone even invited Sir R. Palmer to put his resolutions into the shape of a Bill, and gave him to understand that the Government would offer the measure no direct opposition. But obviously there was no chance of pushing forward through the House of Commons, much less through the Lords, a Bill not introduced nor even drawn in March. So the Inns of Court had time given them once more to mend their ways. The result is the scheme lately published for founding a system of Professorial and Tutorial instruction to supersede the Readers' Lectures, as well as an Examining Board to conduct the examination for Call to the Bar, which is now made compulsory. As a system which, pretending to be thorough, does in fact as little as possible, and manages to do it in the worst way, this scheme is a masterpiece in ingenuity ; but it is impossible to conceive that it can be accepted by the public when its bearings are clearly understood, any more than it has been by the Legal Education Association, as a satisfactory settlement of the question.

Let us see, in the first place, what shortcomings were to be reformed. It was contended, on the one side, and hardly denied upon the other, that the English Bar was defective in , the scientific and systematic part of legal education. For practical training nothing could be better than the work in a barrister's or a pleader's chambers, when the pupil wai able and willing to avail himself of his advantages ; but this course meant, in most cases, the toilsome acquisition of applied science, while the scientific principles that would have illu- minated and co-ordinated the whole were ignored. Hence was derived the curiously narrow acuteness of the English lawyer's intelligence, and other consequences, mostly evil ones, which need not be more particularly indicated. An examinational test alone, though it might clear the profession from discredit by keeping out the abjectly incompetent, would have done very little to supply the particular deficiency complained of, unless it were of a severity which would not, perhaps, have been found tolerable. The scheme of Lectures devised and administered by the Council of Legal Education was still less fitted to meet the demand. What was wanted was understood by all who were acquainted with the needs of the profession to be a teaching body of the first rank, with well-paid professors and tutors for every branch of law, theoretical and practical. It is admitted that the best teach- ing, either professorial or tutorial, is not to be had without paying such salaries for the work that men of ability with a taste for teaching can afford to devote their lives to the business. So long as the salaries are small, legal education will only enlist the failures of the profession, or young men who, in place of working on and improving year by year as professors or tutors, will be on the look-out to abandon their engagements when they see a chance of anything better. Again, to obtain the services of competent men, a certain permanence of position must be secured to the teaching staff, for a rising young lawyer will hardly sacrifice his chances of practice for a postfrom which he may be displaced at the end of three years. The Educational reformers therefore would not have been content—regarding the matter, for a moment, from the point of view of the Bar exclu- sively, and setting aside the proposal to share the advantages of legal education with the other branch of the profession and the general public—unless the reforms promised by the Benchers had embraced the appointment of a teaching staff, adequate in numbers, sufficiently paid, and guaranteed a per- manent position. Now, under the old system, six Readers had been originally appointed, who delivered "public lectures," and also took "private classes," neither being very attractive to the mass of students who were subject to no examinational test. For these are now substituted five Professors, and a number of Tutors not yet finally fixed. Some of the professors will also act as tutors. The salary, including fees, of the professor who also takes private classes will at the most be £700 a year, that of the professor who takes no private classes about .E500, and that of the average tutor £350. In the case of the higher-paid professorships, the work will be exhausting and must be exclusive. The scheme indeed accumulated upon individual teachers a ridiculously large number of subjects. One professor will have to instruct in Jurisprudence, Public and Pri- vate International Law, Roman Civil Law, Constitutional Law, and Legal History ; another is allotted Common Law, Criminal Law, and the Law of Evidence, and so on. The tenure of both professorships and tutorships is for three years, though the Coun- cil may re-elect the out-going teachers. The examination for call to the Bar is not to be conducted as heretofore by the Readers, assisted by the Council of Legal Education, but by a Board of six paid Examiners, whose salary is to be £126 a year. The Studentships and Exhibitions hitherto awarded for general proficiency have been abolished, and though a number of new studentships are to be founded, they are to be given only in those branches of study which have no relation to practice in Jurisprudence and Roman Law. Can this scheme be regarded as fully meeting the popular demand for a reform in Legal Education ? Surely not. The teaching staff is ridiculously weak in numbers, and is paid at too low a rate to attract the best men, even if they were promised, as they are not, a permanency. It would be easy to show that any well-organised School of Law should contain at least twelve professorial chairs, and a subordinate staff of fifteen or twenty tutors, working with private classes of moderate size. But this, it will be objected, would cost more than the Benchers are likely to give without Parliamentary compulsion. That is another reason surely for insisting that Parliament should deal with the corporate property of the Inns of Court as public property. But supposing that there may be objections to this method which we cannot at present perceive, why should not the scheme be made self-supporting? Of course this could not be done if the new School of Law were to be confined, as the Benchers wish, to the aspirants for admission to the Bar, who would not supply more than 400 or 500 students ; but then there are those who are seeking admission to the other branch of the profession, and who are eagerly demanding the highest legal teaching. The Solicitors believe that they could send from 1,000 to 1,500 students to the lecture-rooms of a Central School of Law, and to this number would have to be added the country gentlemen, the Colonial and Indian officials who desire systematic instruction in legal principles, but do not want to be called to the Bar. It is nearly certain that if a School of Law, ably officered and holding out valuable rewards for merit, were thus thrown open in London, it would become splendidly self-supporting, and win a reputation which the grudging and stinted contrivances of the Inns of Court have no chance of obtaining. If the Legal Education Associa- tion, now strengthened by Lord Selborne's position in the Cabinet, will only resolutely push on, this conception may become soon a reality. The only effective point in Mr. Lowe's criticism on the proposals of the Association,—that it aimed at needlessly adding to the number of licensing bodies —is obviated by the statement that the only licences it is proposed to give by the certificates of the School of Law are those for practising at the Bar or as a solicitor, and as these are now given by the Inns of Court and the Incorporated Law Society separately, the number of licensing bodies would be reduced, not increased, by the change. The School of Law would make use of the Legal Faculties of the Universities, and accept their degrees in the theoretical branches of legal learn- ing. It would not grant, as we understand the project, any degrees of its own, though it might give certificates of profi- ciency in those practical parts of Law which University. Examiners leave untouched.