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Law firms ditch training contracts in favour of ‘periods of recognised training’

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25-year-old term consigned to history as not-very-catchy replacement is introduced

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Not so much with a bang but a whimper — the solicitor training contract has effectively died.

The term — which was born a quarter of a century ago when it replaced the more charming but arcane title “articled clerk” — has been consigned to history by a regulatory ruling imposed relatively under the radar six months ago.

In a superb example of the principle of invoking four words when two seemed to suffice, the former training contract is now officially referred to as a:

“Period of recognised training”.

Law firms are already invoking the term, so wannabe lawyers had better get used to it. Legal Cheek understands that a recent internal communication at City firm Addleshaw Goddard stipulated that training contracts were now being re-branded as periods of recognised training.

Two other firms — City private client specialists Withers and Merseyside personal injury and clinical negligence practice Fletchers Solicitors — have used the new terminology on their Twitter accounts.

The move comes after the Legal Services Board — the profession’s uber-regulator — backed a proposal from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to reform the training process.

Law firm training that began after 1 July last year no longer must be completed under the terms of a specified SRA training contract covered by the watchdog’s 2011 regulations. Instead, the regulator says it is now focusing on the “scope and standard of training”, as revised in a fresh round of rules approved last year.

Under the old regulations, law firms and other training providers, such as in-house legal departments, were required to register the terms of individual training contracts with the regulator.

They no longer have to do so under the updated regime; instead, they are only required to notify the SRA that an individual has begun a recognised period of training. And that training can take a variety of shapes.

“We no longer specify the different modes of training,” a spokesman for the regulator told Legal Cheek yesterday. “The different modes are now catered for by a pro rata requirement for part time trainees. The training provider no longer needs to apply to us to terminate training. This is now to be determined between the provider and trainee.”

What does this mean in practice? For starters, the traditional model of four six-month rotating seats — a hold-over from the articled clerk days — could soon be on the way out.

Old-style training contracts are still recognised by the regulator. According the SRA spokesman:

“Training entered into under the 2011 Regulations, namely, under the terms of an SRA specified training contract, will remain subject to the 2011 Regulations, unless both the trainee and the training provider agree that training should continue according to the 2014 Regulations”.

But the gates are open for a much more liberal regime of alternative routes into the profession.

All of which begs the question: what do we call those training to qualify as solicitors? The replacement of the term training contract with period of recognised training doesn’t make this an easy task.

Any takers for a romantic return to articled clerks?