Dentons has refreshed its training contract for its new 2020 trainee intake, laying out three new modules.

The modernised contract will include three additional modules: legal project management, innovation and resilience, aimed at embedding trainees with other skills, abilities and mindsets, on top of the traditional lawyer training.

Dentons says that these will not replace any of the former modules but are intended to complement its current programme/training contract by building on the T-shaped lawyer model. A T-shaped lawyer is described as fundamentally a technical expert that is equipped with the business management and soft skills listed across the top line thus creating a well-rounded, self-aware business person enabling them to service clients while being commercially aware of their firm’s business strategy/needs/bottom line.

Focusing on the importance of commercial awareness, as part of the legal project management module, trainees will receive a legal project management-focused accreditation. This element is in response to lawyers needing to deal with clients increasingly requiring their advisers to work to challenging deadlines with tight budgets.

On the tech front, the firm is putting together an innovation training course covering aspects such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, process automation, design thinking, blockchain, smart contracts, coding and general digital literacy. The resilience element, run by Dentons’ inclusion & diversity team, meanwhile focuses on mental health and wellbeing, which the firm says will look to “create more good days at work.” 

The firm is also relaunching the supervisor role, with new training and guidelines for trainee partners and supervisors, run by the talent and development team.

In its bid to improve the former contract, last year the firm carried out an internal survey and invited volunteers from across the firm to assess the feedback and data that was gathered. The new programme will be introduced for the September 2020 intake.

Trainee partner Nigel Webber commented: ‘We are ambitious about making Dentons the best place for lawyers to develop into commercially and technically savvy business advisers who are also emotionally intelligent and inclusive.

“We already have some of the best learning and development programmes in the market and our modernised training contract will help us to attract bright, diverse and motivated graduates and then provide them with an attractive, distinct and challenging training experience that will mark the first stage of their journey ‘from ‘lawyer to leader.”

Modernising the training contract

Dentons isn’t the only firm to shake things up at junior level by redesigning its training contracts. Firms have been keen to harness a wider range of skills, with innovation and legal project management at the forefront.

Last September Linklaters scrapped its vacation scheme and training contract application form in favour of an online test. The magic circle firm consulted students and found the traditional application form could take four to five hours to complete. The new process takes around 90 minutes and is designed to allow applicants “the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to solve problems like a lawyer.”  It asks candidates to envisage themselves in the role of a trainee and work their way through “realistic scenarios to demonstrate the capabilities that Linklaters looks for in trainee lawyers.”

Reed Smith also introduced an “innovation seat” for two of its trainees to complete. As part of it, they will help on new projects to “equip them with the skills needed for the legal practice of tomorrow.” Examples of projects the trainees may potentially be involved with include developing automated services for clients, working on a new knowledge analytics platform, assessing new legal technology offerings and helping to develop the firm’s service design methodology.

In March 2018, Allen & Overy launched a graduate scheme in London focusing on legal technology and project management, recruiting four candidates with STEM or Economics degree. The programme mirrors the structure of a traditional training contract, though does not lead to qualification as a solicitor. It involves four six-month seat rotations around the firm’s project management office, its legal tech team, and projects within other advanced delivery areas.

At the end of 2018, Norton Rose Fulbright followed suit and launched a new graduate scheme as part of its change and innovation program NRF Transform. Lasting two years, the scheme revolves around a six-month rotation across four main categories: business solutions, focused on coming up with bespoke products developed in collaboration with the IT team; commercial management, which explores how to sell tech-enabled offerings through promotional campaigns; and technical courses that include innovation, pricing, legal project management and resource management.

Ashurst devised a graduate scheme within its New Law legal operations division, Ashurst Advance. Named “Pathway” it does not lead to qualification as a solicitor and is not modeled along the lines of a training contract. Graduates selected for it have the opportunity to train in areas such as legal operations, legal project management, legal technology and legal process improvement. Mile Polson, co-head of Ashurst Advance, told The Lawyer that he believes there is “clearly a need for a separate stream for the new and different roles that are emerging within the changing market that will sit along qualified lawyers.”

Deloitte meanwhile also announced that it was launching a “SQE Training Contract” last year. Running for three years rather than two, it allows law graduates to begin immediately after finishing university, gaining qualifying legal work experience before sitting Parts 1 and 2 of the new SQE Successful applicants to Deloitte’s scheme will begin in September this year, qualifying as solicitors in 2023. They will have the opportunity to take seats in areas including tax litigation, employment, and corporate and commercial.

Technology in training contracts: who’s doing what?