No curbs on market entry

I write with reference to the letter from Miss Castle "Training cap is needed" in your edition of 14 February.

The powers of the Law Society under the Solicitors Act relate to qualifications to be obtained by individuals. They are about standards to be achieved, not numbers who achieve those standards. If we were to attempt to limit numbers of places available on courses we could be open to legal challenge.

The "market" is not some alien force. It is made up, at the profession's end, of the sum of the individual recruitment decisions of firms. I would hesitate to substitute a bureaucratic judgement about future manpower needs for the real judgements of firms. It is firms who judge their position in the market and the number of staff they can afford to employ.

The problem is that the reality of the recruitment position is not influencing applications as strongly as some might wish. This is not because of a lack of information.

However, the reality is that, due to the government policy of expanding higher education, there are now 11,000 law graduates per year coming on to the employment market. So long as they know the true chance of finding a training contract should we deny them the opportunity to compete for those that are available?

The Law Society is trying to address the problem of alternative opportunities for these law graduates. We have produced training materials to help graduates identify ways in which they can use their skills in other areas of employment.

Most importantly, we are working with the Department of Employment and Institute of Legal Executives to produce new qualifications for law graduates who wish to work in solicitors offices as "paralegal" fee earners under the direction of solicitors.

This will benefit the profession by providing relevant qualifications for people who will be cheaper to employ, it will give the individuals a marketable qualification and it will give the profession, through the Law Society, a measure of control over a qualification structure that might otherwise be used in competition.

The qualifications will be within the framework of National Vocational Qualifications and as such will attract tax relief for individuals and in many cases grants for firms from training and enterprise councils.

We are planning a conference to inform the profession, trainers and trainees about these developments. It will be at Nottingham Law School on 12 April. Details will be announced soon and will be available from the society in Redditch.

Roger Jones is the chairman of the Law Society Training Committee.