Ask any trainee solicitor what training they need and they will tell you the compulsory subjects that form the seven foundations of legal knowledge – the skills learned on the Legal Practice Course (LPC), the two-year training contract and the Professional Skills Course. Chances are, they will also joke about a willingness to photocopy and pick up the supervisor's dry cleaning.
But training contracts are set for a change as the Law Society considers proposals for a new training framework. This is in response to the changing nature of the profession and the demands of some City firms for an amended LPC.
While new training proposals are being discussed, firms are still battling it out to attract the best trainees by souping up their training contracts to include training extras and to make them stand out.
Most firms offer trainees a four-seat system with six months spent in each seat. Gouldens is one City firm to eschew this traditional seat system. It offers a non-rotational training system, with trainees having their own office which handles work for different departments simultaneously.
All five magic circle firms offer a more traditional seat system than Gouldens. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer operates a system where after the first six-month seat in one of the compulsory areas of corporate, finance or dispute resolution, trainees can choose whether each subsequent seat is for three or six months. This allows them to occupy up to seven seats during their training contract.
Freshfields partner Hugh Crisp sees personal development as going hand in hand with professional development. “Everybody here has the opportunity to get personal development skills,” he says. This starts during the training contract, when trainees are given the chance in the first week to take part in a community-based project. A recent example of this was cleaning up the pond of a local primary school.
“Community projects help everyone learn that we don't take ourselves too seriously”
Hugh Crisp, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
“It helps everyone learn that we don't take ourselves too seriously,” says Crisp. “We also offer training in the second year of the training contract to help people realise what motivates them, so they can work out what they're likely to be good at and understand more about themselves in a work context.”
At Linklaters & Alliance, the trainees due to start in the next two years will have the added benefit of having done a week's business foundation programme before beginning the LPC. This is a pilot project for the firm and is run in conjunction with Manchester Business School.
Linklaters associate director of training and development Ann Marie Cooper says that the course is very helpful for the trainees. “This particular programme was to give the trainees an introduction to a business environment and an introduction to Linklaters as a business,” she explains.
For some trainees, a contract outside London is preferable. Richard Webb is training partner at Cobbetts in Manchester. He says that training outside London gives trainees the advantage of working in a smaller firm and getting experience across the board. “There's no sacrifice in the quality of work and the trainee enjoys an excellent quality of life,” he says. “They get an all-round legal education in the context of a commercial environment – high-quality work, supervision and monitoring and a great social life.”
One way in which firms can make their trainee contracts stand out is by offering secondments to clients or overseas offices. Seats abroad are offered by many firms. Linklaters sends around 50 trainees abroad in every seat. Graduate recruitment officer Jane Leader says: “London is a large office; by going to a smaller office they'll get a variety of work and a different perspective.”
Being seconded to a client is also popular among trainees. It gives them a chance to spend time outside the firm and see different working environments. A strong relationship with the client can be formed that may last for the rest of their career.
An essential part of training is the Professional Skills Course. The Law Society Training Regulations 1990 require everyone wishing to qualify as a solicitor to successfully complete the Professional Skills Course during their training contract period. Firms are required to pay the course fees and to allow trainees paid study leave to attend the course, which takes 72 hours (12 days of study) and which can be provided in-house or externally. It consists of compulsory modules in financial and business skills, advocacy and communication skills and client care and professional standards. The trainee can then choose electives, expanding on one or more of the training areas.
Since the Law Society's Training Contract Review in July 2000, law firms have had to submit to compulsory monitoring of training contracts run by the Law Society monitoring of training team. Training programmes can be classed as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory and a report sent to the Law Society and the firm gives recommendations for improvement. The Law Society team has the power to insist on changes to training, or in extreme circumstances it can prevent the firm taking on trainees.
As the legal community recognises the need for training to be regulated, and with trainees from the top universities finding themselves in demand, firms are having to offer more than just the basic requirements to trainees. This means paying generous living allowances to trainees doing their postgraduate studies and high salaries during their training contract.
But with all the extras that firms are offering, they are hoping that the time and money they are spending will give the trainees a sense of loyalty and belonging. The firms hope that their trainees will stay with them beyond the training contracts and prove that a trainee is for life, not just for two years.
|The City Legal Practice Course|
| It was obvious to many City firms that the training required for someone to work in a City firm was different to the training required to work in a high-street firm or a niche practice. Eight of the large City firms got together and formed the City Eight – Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith, Linklaters & Alliance, Lovells, Norton Rose and Slaughter and May. Between them, these firms take on more than 800 trainees per year.
This September the new City Legal Practice Course (LPC) opened at the three providers favoured by the City Eight – BPP Law School, Nottingham Law School and the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice. Trainees at the City eight are assured a place on the City LPC, with spare places open to students with training contracts at other firms or without a training contract.
The old LPC was considered by the City Eight not to be intellectually demanding enough and not geared to the working environment of the big City firms.
It is not a new idea. A&O considered doing it, but dropped its plans when the Law Society made known its objections.
The City LPC still retains much of the same focus as the old LPC and has had to stick to Law Society guidelines. However, it does have an emphasis on certain areas applicable to City practice.
The firms in the City Eight claim that qualified solicitors who have not done the City LPC will not be discriminated against for jobs in these firms. However, this has not stopped claims that the City LPC is elitist and discriminatory.
More firms seem keen to get in on the act. Wragge & Co is set to launch a firm-specific LPC with the Birmingham branch of the College of Law, with an added emphasis on corporate and financial law modules, as with the City LPC. Trainees will be encouraged to do this LPC, but it will not be compulsory. Other firms are expected to announce associations with specific LPC providers in the future, and the College of Law has redesigned its LPC to give students the option of taking City-orientated modules.