Reed Smith has revealed its plans for a year-long programme to make its future trainees ready for the new Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) which will take place entirely within the law firm’s walls.
The firm’s “professional SQE training path” will launch in 2022 and in effect will replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC). It will take the same amount of time to complete as the LPC and will similarly lead into the two-year training contract, but will take a significantly different format. Unlike the LPC, the additional knowledge and skills will be assessed through a business-focused portfolio and a series of oral assessments akin to real-world appraisals, capped off with a Masters-level applied professional project.
Instead of spending time in a law school, Reed Smith future trainees will spend all their study time within the firm. They will progress through five steps over the course of a year.
The first step is “Foundations in Law,” online study preparation covering the seven core areas of a qualifying law degree and law conversion course. The second stage will be preparation for SQE Part 1. The first two stages may be studied remotely if future trainees desire; the following stages take place in the office, since stage three comprises supervised study three days a week in advanced legal knowledge and skills alongside working two days a week to apply and contextualise learning in the business of a law firm. Future trainees will undertake seats of a sort, working in the knowledge, innovation, business services or pro bono teams.
Stage four is preparation for Part 2 of the SQE, while stage five is an applied project, where future trainees work two days a week in a new business services area or on client placement while completing a Masters-level applied professional project based on the work undertaken.
Students will have their fees and maintenance grant paid, as was the case for the old LPC. They will also be paid a salary for the days spent working for Reed Smith.
Stage six, the last stage, is Qualifying Work Experience; in other words, the classic two-year training contract.
Reed Smith has partnered with two relatively new entrants to the UK legal education market to deliver the programme, leaving traditional law schools BPP and the University of Law out of the equation.
US outfit Barbri will assist with the test prep for the SQE while the Australian education provider The College of Legal Practice will be on hand for the advanced knowledge and skills part of the course. Those two organisations partnered up at the end of last year to design SQE-ready courses together.
BPP has already been given the mandate by six other City firms to design “an integrated suite of education and skills programmes” for to prep future trainees for the SQE.
Brigid North, Reed Smith’s training principal, said: “With the new path, our future trainees will begin their two years’ Qualifying Work Experience with a strong understanding of the firm, our culture and our values, and they will have acquired some experience of working in professional services. We are strong supporters of the O Shaped Lawyer initiative; and its focus on preparing solicitors to be an effective business partner has been key in our choice of model. Our clients are regularly asking for lawyers with commercial skills and this ensures that our trainees will start their careers one step ahead.”
She added: “I has been an exciting opportunity. When the SQE was in its infancy there was the question of whether we were going to do a straight swap [with the LPC] and try to replicate what went before. As we progressed we saw an opportunity to do something completely fresh. What we have seen during the placement schemes we do with universities is that the opportunity to have exposure to an office setting was brought up by students again and again.