Strike the balance

Any review of the consequences of introducing a degree of commonality into the vocational training of barristers and solicitors needs to take into account all parts of vocational training. It also needs to be a review set in the context of both a changing market place and changing

professions.

Direct access to the Bar and extended rights of audience for solicitors have not been as significant as deregulation is likely to be nor as important as the removal of financial limits in the county court, where solicitors already have rights of audience, has been.

We should train for the probable career paths of both groups of professionals.

This review will cover the content and the structure of vocational training and the consequences for post qualification training and the academic stage.

It assumes that most advocacy will continue to be undertaken by barristers and that both professions agree that there are other common skills and some additional benefits in a better understanding of one another.

The content of such vocational training could be categorised into three subject groups – common training subjects, complementary training subjects and subjects for separate training.

Suggested subjects for common training might include:

Professional conduct;

European Union law;

Revenue law;

Accounts;

Suggested subjects for complementary training might include:

Legal research;

Evidence and procedure (basic);

Fact gathering and management;

Instructing counsel, conference and meeting skills, drafting pleadings;

Opinion writing and client advice;

Negotiation;

Advocacy (basic);

Practice management.

Suggested subjects for separate training might include:

For solicitors: drafting commercial agreements; conveyancing; business law and practice; wills, probate and administration.

For barristers: evidence and procedure (advanced); trial advocacy; sentencing; remedies.

Educationally this knowledge/skills mix would be better taught in the context of practice. However, a sandwich of course work and work experience, though desirable, is impractical. Given the different lengths of the vocational training of the two professions, the diversity of work experience and likely resistance to change, the current structure dividing the classroom training (one year) from work experience (one or two years) is best retained.

Those areas of training already discussed could be taught in a one-year course.

During pupillage and the training contract these areas could be built on. Classroom training in this period could be more specialised. The work experience itself should remain as broad as possible. For solicitors this route would involve moving accounts and practice management back into the first year vocational course and moving the specialist options forward into the courses during the training contract. For barristers, it would involve moving the voluntary accounts course back into the first year vocational course and introducing new practice management training.

Post-qualification training would no longer need to include the practice management courses currently required for solicitors. A qualified solicitor or barrister would instead be free to develop specialist expertise, including advocacy.

These qualifications should be modular, portable and internationally recognised. They should enable both better performance and career advancement and should cover legal, professional, management and language qualifications.

The consequences for the academic stage are negligible. The purpose of the academic stage is not preparation for professional practice. However, the general emphasis on communication skills and a prerequisite for employment generally might feed back into it.

In summary, increasing commonality in training is likely to:

1) Create a more generalist vocational training, with any specialisation taking place either during pupillage or the training contract.

2) Create a need for specialist modular training spanning the career of a professional in law and its practice, management and languages.

3) Encourage mobility between the two professions as solicitor advocacy matures.

The academic stage is likely to remain largely unchanged.

Anne Marie Stebbings is professional development manager at Baker & McKenzie.