A new blog on English legal history contains some fascinating titbits of information.
1. For almost 500 years the legal profession got by without training contracts
From the mid-12th Century, when law was practised exclusively by a bunch of learned men at Westminster, until the 17th Century, by which time a distinct two-branch legal profession had emerged, there were no training contracts. The convention of articled clerkships — later re-branded training contracts — only took hold in the mid-1600s.
2. Trainee solicitors were once a rarity.
These days there are around 5,000 TCs up for grabs each year. But in 1785 there were a mere 129 registered articled clerkships.
The Attorneys and Solicitors Act 1728 prevented anyone from practising as a solicitor unless he (more on gender restrictions later) had undertaken an articled clerkship lasting five years.
4. But there was a fast-track system for graduates of five top universities.
In 1843 training contracts were shortened for graduates of the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin, Durham and London. Still, most people still took five years to complete their training, although there is a record of one hotshot getting through in a mere 10 months.
5. Fighting in the First World War counted as part of your TC.
The Solicitors (Articled Clerks) Act 1918 allowed time spent serving in the war to count towards the term of years of a solicitor’s training.
6. The legal profession tried hard to prevent women becoming solicitors.
After the Law Society refused to allow four women to sit the Law Society exams in 1913, the women took their case to court, and lost, with Mr Justice Joyce ruling that women were not “persons” within the meaning of the 1843 Solicitors Act.
The 1919 Sex Disqualification Act allowed women to practise law for the first time, with Carrie Morrison becoming the first woman to complete a training contract.
7. Rules governing the supervision of trainees were very lax.
It wasn’t until 1936 that is was specified — in the Solicitors Act of that year — that a solicitor couldn’t take on a clerk (trainee) until they had practised for at least five years themselves.
8. Training contracts have only existed in their current form since 1990.
Solicitors’ “articles” were replaced by the training contract 24 years ago in a bid to use simpler and clearer language. The main substantive change was to fix the term of training at two years. Until then, it had been possible to complete articles over a period of up to four years.
9. Training contracts might be about to change again.
The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority’s (SRA) ‘Training for Tomorrow’ consultation has the potential to overhaul the training contract once more. Among the suggestions for change is an idea that solicitors-to-be could design their own routes to qualification, which need not involve a degree, LPC or even a TC. The deadline for responses is 28 February.
History of the solicitors’ training contract [English Legal History]