It ain't over till it's over

The firms whose future trainees now take the 'City LPC' have had to adapt their post-graduate training programmes. Suzanne Fine reports on the improvements that have been made

City law firms such as Lovells offer a structured training programme for their trainees as soon as they join the firm after completing the LPC. The Law Society requires that all trainees complete the Professional Skills Course (PSC) during their training contract. Lovells' PSC programme, as with other firms, has been in place for some years. However, Lovells is one of the firms in the consortium of the eight City firms that subscribe to the LPC provided at Nottingham Law School, BPP Law School and the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice.

The course is now nearing the end of its second year and trainees will have completed that course. As a result, Lovells has had to look closely at its in-house PSC programme to see whether there are any useful changes that should be made, taking into account what students will have covered at law school. For example, the new entrants at Lovells should certainly have covered relevant corporate topics in more detail than previously and have a strong grounding in appropriate substantive law and research techniques.

The firms have surveyed the students on the compulsory and elective parts of their LPC, and have monitored their progress over the academic year through reports and informal meetings with students. This has all been valuable in assessing any in-house training that follows on. The various changes of emphasis and specific case studies used on the LPC have meant that Lovells has shifted accordingly the emphasis of its own in-house training programmes. While the firm's PSC programme necessarily complies with Law Society requirements, it has formulated carefully the elective stage of the course to suit the requirements of its trainees.

The PSC comprises a core of three topics: financial and business skills (18 hours); client care and professional standards (12 hours); and advocacy and communication skills (18 hours). In addition, trainees have to undertake at least a further 24 hours of skills-based elective subjects.

Some firms will send trainees on PSC courses provided by outside consultants, while others, including Lovells, are authorised providers for delivering this training in-house. Since Lovells has an annual intake of around 75 trainees, it prefers to design and deliver its PSC training in-house as much as possible. This route provides various benefits, such as: ensuring that the training provided is absolutely specific to the different practice areas at the firm; encouraging team spirit among the trainee intake as well as with the lawyers/partners who are delivering the training; and allowing the firm to ensure that the training provided to trainees dovetails with the continuing formal training programme offered to qualified solicitors.

However, training does not stop at the end of the training contract. Lovells views lawyers' training as a continuum, of which the LPC and PSC are just parts. Once a newly qualified lawyer joins a particular practice area at Lovells, there is further ongoing training to increase their knowledge of practice in that field. This training has been carefully aligned alongside that offered at PSC level.

Take litigation training, for example. The rules of civil procedure under continuing professional development are naturally covered on the LPC, and advocacy skills in civil matters are then developed during the advocacy and communication part of the PSC. This area is then taken even further for those who qualify into Lovells' dispute resolution practice stream. The firm runs the Litigation Core Course (LCC), which is a modular programme, stressing the particular litigation skills it considers necessary for qualified solicitors working in that area.

In the corporate field, students on the LPC have some practice in drafting simple relevant documents. As part of the elective programme on Lovells' in-house PSC, they learn more advanced drafting techniques; and then, for those who qualify into the corporate practice stream, it offers training in advanced transaction-handling skills, taking into account the international nature of practice in the corporate practice stream.

Another example is in property practice. Students on the LPC learn about commercial property transactions, and this is developed further for trainee solicitors during the in-house PSC programme at Lovells, where they deal with more advanced practical issues. Upon qualification into the property stream, newly qualified solicitors attend a modular structured programme on property practice (together with lawyers from other similar firms), where their expertise is honed.

The training department at Lovells has never been so busy.

Suzanne Fine is head of legal training at Lovells