It’s got all the right resonances. Here’s Linklaters – a firm that has explicitly prioritised corporate and finance at the expense of litigation and real estate – outsourcing part of its litigation training to an external provider. And here’s the College of Law – back in the good books of the City majors after its controversial exclusion from the City LPC consortium four years ago.
But the partnership between the two is actually part of a wider debate about training – and that debate doesn’t just mean City firms, either. Take Lord Falconer’s big idea on ‘Tesco law’, whereby all sorts of different commercial organisations may be able to provide off-the-shelf legal advice. If consumers are going to have more choice about the types of legal services they can buy, then would-be lawyers are going to need much more choice about the type of training on offer.
The City LPC was the first step. The eight law firms that banded together to demand a more appropriate post-graduate course for their future trainees certainly exercised their choice as paying customers. But the very word ‘choice’ is always highly political, and in this context the issues of diversity and access to the profession will need serious thought.
Although it might make some City hardliners turn quite yellow at the edges, the dogged insistence of certain influential partners that their firms should be embracing imaginative community programmes will – thankfully – drive a lot of the thinking on the subject of training. Indeed, Linklaters’ enlightened liberalism is a nice way of marrying social commitment with the tricky HR issue of how to satisfy Law Society requirements on a litigation seat – especially when your litigation group is so small and never likely to get much bigger. The US firms in London have already had to tackle this problem. It will be interesting to see whether more large firms with meagre litigation capability, such as Slaughter and May, will follow suit.
Who knows? By the time the Law Society consultation paper on training comes out this autumn there may even be other examples of creative thinking. The word is that another major City firm – this time one with a substantial litigation group – is about to road-test a similar initiative of its own. Linklaters’ move also gives lie to the assumption that the Law Society has less than zero tolerance of deviation from normal training requirements.
Steady on. Law Society in flexible shocker? Now there’s something else worth celebrating.