Osborne Clarke imposes beefed up training regime for junior lawyers

Osborne Clarke (OC) is to impose a landmark top-up training regime on all its recently qualified lawyers, insisting they pass strict exams in specialist practice areas.

David Shufflebotham
David Shufflebotham

The move – which has evolved from a recently completed pilot programme – will see all the firm’s newly-qualified to three-year post-qualification associates required to sit an eight to 12-week enhanced training programme. Lawyers will be tested before starting the course and at its end, with a harsh 90 per cent pass rate set for the second stage.

Managers at the firm say lawyers failing the final exam will have to resit until they hit the pass mark.

The courses are to be run by BPP, the country’s second biggest law school. The Bristol-founded, London-based firm cut a deal with for the ground-breaking training scheme as part of its move last March from the University of Law to BPP for provision of legal practice course for trainees. According to the firm, BPP is providing the associate top-up training at no additional cost.

The new training regime will affect up to 150 Osborne Clarke lawyers, with the pilot scheme already having covered associates in real estate, employment, tax and pensions. Lawyers in the firm’s corporate department are expected to form the formalised scheme’s first intake this summer.

David Shufflebotham, Osborne Clarke’s director of human resources, claimed imposition of the scheme was not an implicit criticism of the ability of the legal practice course to prepare students for qualification.

“Law schools educate students on getting into the profession,” commented Shufflebotham, himself a former LPC lecturer. “But they don’t actually teach them what they need to know to be able to advise clients. This programme cements the knowledge they have coming out of law school to allow them to advise clients in the most efficient way.”

Osborne Clarke officials readily acknowledge they have devised the training system as a means of creating marketing capital in a crowded field.

“We’re in the mid-market with a lot of other firms,’ said Shufflebotham, “and therefore the efficiency of what we do in terms advice is important. In a very nuts and bolts way, if it takes a lawyer half an hour to look up a point of law – as opposed to taking five minutes to write the answer because you know the answer already – then that has quite an efficiency impact on the client.

“These are all clever lawyers – and on qualification they can all look up the law, but we live in a tough and competitive environment so they have to do it quickly, efficiently and with a lot of confidence. We are concentrating on building up their speed through experience.”

The firm said it is already aiming to extend its internal continuing education programme with plans to create a regime in which three to six-year-qualified associates will be actively encouraged – if not required – to gain an LLM or equivalent post-graduate degree.

“It all fits with our broader careers policy for lawyers,” explained Shufflebotham. “We are looking for them to become famous in their specialist practice areas.

BPP’s chief executive and dean, Peter Crisp, described the deal as taking a “holistic overview rather than a segmented approach to legal education through the academic stages and into qualification”. Crisp criticised undergraduate law degrees as historically being “too academic and ivory tower based”, and he predicted that other law firms would follow Osborne Clarke’s lead and embrace on-going training.

Osborne Clarke has just announced its expansion into Paris taking its total office portfolio to 15 internationally, with some 600 lawyers on its books.

BPP is expecting an imminent decision from the government on its application for university status, which would make it the second private law school with that title in the UK following the University of Law’s upgrade last year.