Set to run advocacy courses for cash-strapped solicitors

Verulam Chambers is to launch a pioneering advocacy training programme for solicitors and pupils.

The courses, beginning in October, will be run by two of the chambers' tenants, Elissa Da Costa and Society of Asian Lawyers chairman Sailesh Mehta, who say the demand for the courses has come mainly from their solicitor clients.

They will also aim to compete with the Inns of Court, which provide training for recently-qualified barristers who must now complete 42 hours of additional training under new continuing professional development rules.

The chambers has already been accredited by the Law Society to train solicitors and is now seeking training accreditation from the Bar Council.

Da Costa, who lectures in advocacy at Nottingham Law School and the Middle Temple, said tightening legal aid budgets meant solicitors were often unable to pay for counsel and were becoming keen to conduct their own advocacy in simple cases.

"There are so many solicitors doing advocacy now," she said. "If you can't stop them taking barristers' work at least let's teach them to do it right."

The Verulam Chambers course will focus on role playing, emphasise the importance of good preparation and pass on some tricks of the trade.

"Advocacy is really the end of the process," said Da Costa. "It's not just the speaking part, it's also to do with things like body language and style."

The one-day courses will cost around £125, although the fee has yet to be settled.

Inns of Court School of Law principal lecturer Clive Coleman warned that Verulam may face stiff competition in attracting students, especially those from the Inns of Court.

"Certainly the Inns have regarded it as one of their primary responsibilities to teach," said Coleman.

"I anticipate that we will also be giving advocacy courses to solicitors in the future."

Verulam believes it is the first set of chambers to offer a specific advocacy course. However, other barristers have taught advocacy in-house at large law firms, while Littleton Chambers' Ian Gatt and Antony Sendall have been teaching solicitors in the art of drafting and pleading since 1987.