The body set up to regulate legal services has recommended that education and training for barristers and solicitors should be reformed.

The Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) also said the standards and competence required to practise as a solicitor or barrister should be clearly defined.

In its report, the authority said there were concerns that the current system of training solicitors was not sufficiently responsive or attuned to the needs of the legal services market.

Concerns were also raised about the quality of some aspects of legal training and the lack of any independent oversight of it.

But there was a worry that new providers might not provide the quality training required.

The LSRA recommends that a clear definition of the competence and standards required to practise as a solicitor or barrister should be developed.

It also calls for the establishment of a new committee to oversee the education and training of barristers and solicitors.

The Legal Practitioner Education and Training Committee would ensure existing providers of legal education and training adhere to appropriate standards.

It would also scrutinise and accredit new providers, based on set criteria established by the committee.

In a report two years ago, by an expert external review team, the LSRA found there was a mismatch of the skills taught in current professional qualification courses with the needs of the users of legal services as well as a lack of independent oversight of the system.

It found there was a lack of clarity around the competencies required of a solicitor or barrister and there were indirect barriers to entry into the professions.

The LSRA says the proposals in its 2018 report were the subject of extensive consultations with stakeholders in the sector.

It says there were differing views in relation to training with a "disjoin" between the needs of larger firms and smaller practices.

It says concerns were expressed that the current system of training solicitors was not sufficiently responsive or attuned to the needs of the legal services market.

Concerns were also raised in relation to the quality of some aspects of legal training and the lack of any independent oversight of it.

Against this, there was a concern that new providers might not provide the quality training required.

Professional education and training is currently provided by the Law Society of Ireland for solicitors and the King's Inns for barristers.

Authority puts off decision on unifying two professions

In a second report, the LSRA said it is too early to recommend that the two branches of the profession - solicitors and barristers - should be unified.

It concluded that a number of other major reforms would need to happen first, including the introduction of legal partnerships, where barristers and solicitors work together in one business.

It said it intends to return to the issue in five years' time.

The reports have been welcomed by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

She welcomed in particular the proposal to widen the opportunities for legal education.

In a statement, Ms McEntee said she was determined there should be more equity and diversity in access to the legal professions and to their education and training structures.

She said she would work with the LSRA to develop policies to achieve this.

The minister said the financial and administrative barriers faced by aspiring lawyers needed to be addressed "for once and for all" and a more open legal services system would support the country's open economy which would be of benefit to citizens and businesses in their access to justice.

Ms McEntee said she was asking the LSRA to have a further look at the economic and other barriers faced by young barristers and solicitors and to make recommendations to her.

Among the issues she is asking the authority to consider are the costs of joining the profession and the information available to prospective trainees on available masters and apprenticeships in solicitors' firms as well as other barriers, including the ability to take maternity leave.