The more I think about it, the more the Acculaw training model reminds me of a cut-price suit. It looks great at first glance, but you start having doubts on closer inspection.
Under the new model, Acculaw will recruit trainees from post-graduate law schools to hire out to firms on an ad hoc basis. The secondments will last for at least three months and the trainees will go to a maximum of three different firms or departments.
On the face of it, this seems a good way to take the control of training contracts away from firms, staunch the flow of low-level work to paralegals and non-qualified staff, and to make traineeships more flexible and affordable. But ultimately I don’t think the model makes sense – either for the trainee or for the firm.
I would caution any young law graduate to ask some pretty searching questions before applying to Acculaw. For a start, they ought to check very carefully what training is on offer. Although SRA-approved, it seems unlikely a firm taking a trainee on for three months is really going to offer the same level of on-the-job guidance and coaching, or off-the-job training, as they would for someone on a full two-year stint.
And what exactly will the trainee be doing? Hired to cover temporary shortages in manpower, it’s more than likely that Acculaw trainees will be doing the kind of dross work usually associated with temps.
Third, it’s unclear what happens between placements. Would the trainee be sitting on their hands if Acculaw couldn’t get them an opening, or looking for other temporary work? And would this ultimately mean it took longer than two years to qualify?
Although they’re cagey about the details, it’s reasonable to assume that Acculaw would also charge some kind of “finder’s fee” if firms took on trainees once qualified on a permanent contract. Again, as a trainee I’d be worried that this would put a potential employer off hiring me when they can get newly-qualified lawyers with no strings attached.
From the law firm’s point of view, it’s easier to see the temptation of the Acculaw model. After all, the scheme should reduce recruitment and training costs and the costs of employing someone full-time, and lessen the attendant risks if a trainee fails to perform.
But many of the qualified associates and partners we see at CareerBalance enjoy developing and mentoring trainees. By denying them this, they’ll miss out on an important management function.
And pushing the permanent hiring process forward to after qualification could ultimately increase the risk and expense to a firm if the person doesn’t work out.
The great strength the two-year training contract is to allow firms to “grow their own” – taking fresh young talent and developing it, enabling new hires to get familiar with clients, the culture and processes in the firm, and potentially to progress to partnership.
At the end of the day, law firms need to fund proper investment in new blood to prosper and grow. There are no short cuts to long-term success.
Simon Broomer is managing director of Career Balance - a team of career planning and job search specialists based in the City www.careerbalance.co.uk