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THE LAW Society has been forced to defend its handling of the Training Framework Review (TFR) as it unveiled a new set of proposals radically different to its earlier plans.
Head of education and training Julie Swan said: "This is about securing standards of entry. Generally, people are anxious to see more detail, but feel broadly comfortable with the proposals."
In a move described by some as a U-turn, the new proposals were announced on 21 October and see the society reneging on its original plans to make the LPC non-compulsory.
The three main proposals, which will be reviewed by the Law Society Council this month, are: making the LPC more flexible; adding compulsory, centrally-set assessments to cover financial and business skills; and carrying out more objective assessment of trainees' performance.
Trainees are likely to be asked to produce online portfolios of the work they have carried out and other elements of training could also be undertaken online. Completing some parts of the LPC will still be a key part of training, although exemptions may be given for aspects of it.
The original proposals included abolishing the requirement for trainees to undertake both contentious and non-contentious seats, and introducing a new conduct, skills and ethics examination prior to qualification.
These plans have now been sidelined in favour of the most recent suggestions after a barrage of criticism from the profession and legal education providers. The critics have generally welcomed the changes. College of Law chief executive Nigel Savage said: "I'm delighted that the Law Society has seen the light."
Melissa Hardee, a senior member of the Training Framework Review Group and course director of the Inns of Court School of Law, said: "Whether you call it a U-turn or not, the new proposals are vastly different to what was originally proposed."
Despite the new plans being more popular than the old ones, there are still concerns about some aspects of them. These include worries about the pressures laid on the people who will have to supervise training.
Swan said: "There's some nervousness within the profession about the demands placed on supervisors." But she added: "We acknowledge that we have to address those concerns."
She denied that the proposals will cost more than the current training regime, saying that the new scheme would be cost-effective.
Swan also argued that the proposals will allow more flexibility and will enable more people to become solicitors.
Existing paralegals and legal executives will be allowed exemptions from some elements of training and students will not have to secure a full two years' training contract prior to beginning training.
The TFR was launched in 2001 to overhaul legal education and training, and has gone through a number of stages to reach its current status. The most recent changes came about after the Law Society Standards Board reviewed more than 200 responses to its latest TFR consultation paper.
Swan said: "Council has an opportunity to debate the review's progress and raise any issues."
Once the council has examined the paper, it will pass into the hands of the Law Society's new regulation board, which is being established in January 2006.