The end of 1994 saw the first glimmers of hope that a decline in training contracts could be weakening. Contrary to expectations, the number of admitted solicitors has grown and so have the number of training contracts. While for many would-be trainees the chances of securing a training contract seem as slim as a win on the National Lottery, there is at least more hope. Many, however, will remain disappointed.
My wishes for 1995 are simple: more jobs, less debt and better training. Debt is stifling the aspirations of many trainees. About one in four Legal Practice Course applicants withdraw before starting the LPC because they cannot fund it. CPE enrolment is also down. Even for those who have secured training contracts debt and job security remain top of their concerns. Some trainees even have to take second jobs to service their loans.
Much is made by firms of the costs of training. This holds a heavy irony for trainees surviving on the minimum salary and seeking to pay off huge debts.
Debt is stifling the aspirations of many trainees Initial views appear to be that the LPC has been a tremendous improvement, giving trainees the basic skills on which firms can build with effective in-house training and good quality experience. Are firms taking this opportunity?
The view of many trainees is that they are not. Poor quality training, slipshod (or non-existent) supervision and scapegoating for the inevitable mistakes that result are common complaints. Trainees also report being treated as dogsbodies; doing the work that their principal dare not ask anyone else to do. Any complaint is greeted with the familiar refrain, 'I had to do it in my day'.
Equally, it is clear that many trainees are very happy with the quality of their training and their experience. They feel well supported, well supervised and clearly derive a sense of confidence and accomplishment which is readily apparent to their peers and, one suspects, to their clients.
Those firms that do it right show the dreadful waste of firms that are doing it wrong. For the poorer firms, the costs of training really are costs; a wasted investment. To take the “I had to do it in my day” mentality is to look to the past for today's solutions. Firms should looking forward to the types of qualified solicitors they want and deciding on the best way to do that.
I hope that in 1995 more firms will look seriously at their training programmes and their methods of supervision to consider not just how to get by but how to succeed. I hope that they will listen to their trainees' concerns.
While we are junior members of the profession, we have important things to say on what we are being trained well in. Encouraging us to express our views and demonstrating that they are being listened to will not only improve the motivation and satisfaction of trainees, if it improves training, the profession will have more confident, able and well-motivated solicitors ready for the challenges of the late-1990s.