Training contracts to face abolition from Law Soc was the headline run by Lawyer 2B magazine in summer 2004. So youd be forgiven for thinking that weve been here before.
Regulators are notorious for their slow decision making. But when it comes overhauling legal training the SRA is frankly taking the mickey. The new training regime for solicitors isnt going to be rolled out until September 2011 - that will be over a decade after the process (previously referred to as the Training Framework Review) was kick-started by the Law Society.
Much of the graduate recruitment community and indeed LPC providers were hoping that the SRAs announcement regarding the long awaited work-based pilot, as first reported on Lawyer2B.com on Monday (12 September), would clarify many unanswered questions. Instead, I think the SRAs proposal simply confuses matters and will arguably create a two-tier system, something that the regulator flatly rejects.
Indeed, even Tim Pierce, development manager at SRA training and education admitted the pilot is an experiment so we cannot predict what will happen in 2011.
The regulator is piloting two separate models, each lasting two years. The first, which is expected to generate the most controversy, will enable paralegals to qualify as solicitors while working in their current roles. The paralegals will take responsibility for their own training and development and will be assessed externally by Nottingham Law School, meaning the duties of their employers will be much lighter.
The second model being piloted will work similarly to the training contract, but qualification as a solicitor will no longer be automatic, with trainees being subject to more rigorous assessment criteria. Firms participating in the pilot include Beachcroft, Freeth Cartwright, Jones Day and Linklaters.
Candidates qualifying under both regimes will be required to compile a portfolio of their work. This could include contracts and letters of advice they have drafted as well as video footage of them leading a negotiation. The aim of the portfolio is to ensure the candidates are competent in areas such as communication and time-keeping.
One of the biggest questions yet to be answered by the SRA is how either of the work-based learning structures being piloted will fit in with the new-look LPC. From September 2009 it will be possible to complete the LPC in two stages meaning that in theory you should be able to start your training contract six months early. However, whether or not this is still the case and what impact it will have on the length of time it will take to qualify remains unclear.
Im definitely in favour of radical change. But I am not convinced that either of the pilots unveiled by the SRA address the real issues facing aspiring lawyers such as the expense of qualifying and other barriers that make entry into the legal profession difficult.
Indeed, both versions have flaws. Although the most radical, the first is unlikely to win the backing from the large City firms and will arguably create a two-tier system. The second, meanwhile, offers little hope for those candidates who are struggling to meet the cost of qualification. But whatever happens the changes will spell an end to the training contract as we know it.