Death of the training contract — solicitors’ regulator reforms rules to boost paralegal entry

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By Judge John Hack on

A key historic plank of the solicitor qualification process is dying — but the training contract is going not with a bang, but a whimper


The solicitors’ profession regulator has effectively consigned the traditional form of the two-year vocational training period to history.

Over the last few weeks, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has eked out revised rules that will make it easier to qualify into the profession through paralegal experience.

In a statement today to Legal Cheek, the SRA confirmed that the training contract — which grey beard readers will remember as articles of clerkship — has been replaced by a “period of recognised training”.

That’s nowhere near as snappy as the term trainee — or as romantically Victorian as articled clerk — but it reflects the regulator recognising that the old regime was arguably a block on career progression and that vast numbers of students were moving into paralegal roles following completion of the legal practice course.

However, the SRA is adamant that the revised regulations are not a relaxation of standards. A spokeswoman for the regulator told Legal Cheek:

“We have retained the requirement for training in terms of content, breadth, level, supervision, but we no longer require it to be undertaken in terms of an SRA training contract. This has been replaced by a period of recognised training.”

The spokeswoman went on to confirm that all other stages of the solicitor qualification process remain unchanged in the updated 2014 rules, before saying:

“… if an individual can demonstrate that they have achieved the outcomes required by them, we will recognise that, even though they may not have been done through a formal training contract”.

Paralegals are expected to be the main beneficiaries of the move. The SRA spokeswoman confirmed that:

“if a paralegal can prove to us that their learned experiences in their role is equivalent to what we require from a formal period of recognised training, we will acknowledge this.”

But wading through regulator-speak to determine what qualifies as a period of recognised training requires a degree in abstract philosophy as well as law.

According to the SRA’s “equivalent means information pack”, which was updated a fortnight ago, when assessing applications for a period of recognised training, the regulator will consider several factors, including:

“… how you have worked alongside solicitors, the legal nature of the work you have undertaken, the level of supervision, feedback and appraisals and interaction with clients or similar”.

The SRA pack goes on to say the regulator “will be looking for a clear alignment between the work that you have done and the work which would be done by a trainee”.

It also warns that applicants face rejection if the work-based learning was achieved during any period when requirements of the SRA’s 2011 character and suitability test could not be met. For those that have temporarily forgotten that 10-point plan for pure living, here it is again:

1. Uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice;
2. Act with integrity;
3. Not allow your independence to be compromised;
4. Act in the best interests of each client;
5. Provide a proper standard of service to your clients;
6. Behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services;
7. Comply with your legal and regulatory obligations and deal with your regulators and ombudsmen in an open, timely and co-operative manner;
8. Run your business or carry out your role in the business effectively and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles;
9. Run your business or carry out your role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity; and
10. Protect client money and assets.

Not everyone is over the moon about the demise of the training contract. According to the Law Gazette, Law Society officials are twitchy about quality issues.

The newspaper quoted Mark Stobbs, Chancery Lane’s director of legal policy, as saying:

“We support flexible routes to qualification. But we question whether many paralegals will be able to satisfy the new requirements. It is important the SRA consults properly on any significant changes to ensure that standards are maintained.”

But it seems as though the society is a bit behind the curve as the regulator has already implemented the revised rule.

So farewell, then, training contract — RIP.