From every point of view, the recent proposals unveiled by Aclec would, if adopted unamended, completely change the process of preparation for a career in both branches of the legal profession. However, these proposals could prove to be of value to law firms.
Currently, every law student looking to enter the profession must study the 'Seven Foundations of Legal Knowledge', despite universities finding that the ever-increasing burden of being forced to cover these is restrictive.
Aclec recommends a series of outcome statements – what students should know and be able to do by the end of the course – to give universities the freedom to innovate and instill the intellectual qualities that law firms crave in students.
Any move which encourages in-depth understanding, and stimulates curiosity in law and replaces the reliance on spoon feeding of information will be welcome.
Aclec envisages an increase in the time spent in training for non-law graduates by a further 10 weeks. So far, little thought has been given to what might be included in this additional period of formal training, except that legal research skills could be further developed.
The opportunity to use this period for research would enable the time to be put to good use, perhaps in developing the firm's know-how or in supporting marketing initiatives. Discussion with course providers will be necessary to ensure programmes are designed to be useful to both firm and trainee.
Common Professional Legal Studies (CPLS)
Aclec sees this course as enabling those not moving immediately into practice to step into other legal careers. Many firms are keen to employ paralegals as an additional specialist resource. The CPLS course will ensure that a regular supply of paralegals is maintained.
In addition, Aclec believes that those aiming to be barristers and solicitors should have some elements of joint training. For those firms which undertake litigation, this will encourage understanding between the two branches and greater underpinning of teamwork. However, considerable development work in liaison with potential employers will be required to ensure this short course is capable of meeting any, let alone all, of these aspirations.
Legal Practice Course
The length of the course will be reduced by about half. It will aim to ensure knowledge and skills are developed which are relevant to areas of work reserved for solicitors, in order to that these areas stay reserved, and ensure skills are developed which could be used in a variety of practice types; mobility of labour and portable skills are major planks of the report.
However, many firms say the LPC should prepare graduates for specific areas of practice rather than be a general training. Their objective is to ensure a quicker return on investment and value for money from graduates, which means skills and knowledge immediately usable in the office.
Length of the training contract
Aclec believes the length of the training contract should be shortened and that the first six months need not be spent with one firm, or indeed, be spent with a firm at all. The committee's theme of increasing opportunities for a range of legal careers is supported in the recommendation that work experience of up to six months should count as the equivalent of time spent in a training contract.
Trainees who take advantage of these opportunities will gain experience and understanding of the operation of different organisations. This can only be beneficial to their understanding of the business world.
Aclec strongly backs the idea that the Law Society should cut the time spent under training to 18 months (12 months for those who have taken six months experience of other legal work).
This may not initially seem in the interests of law firms. However, by reducing the worry a commitment to train for two years involves – the law business can be unpredictable – more firms may be willing to take a trainee for 12-18 months. For others, the opportunity to claw back their investment sooner will be welcome as trainees pass to qualified status and so can be charged to clients at a higher rate. In either case, there would be nothing to prevent firms continuing their training arrangements beyond the point of qualification as many other businesses who recruit graduates do, often for many more years than two.
Continuing professional development (CPD)
Aclec supports using the CPD scheme to develop people as specialists, building on general skills already acquired. Again, the committee has portable and flexible skills which respond to a changing world as a key theme, as is the opportunity to develop skills and change career direction. The Professional Skills Course will be a part of CPD and Aclec is still considering whether there should be other compulsory courses.