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The Professional Competence Course

1 October 01

The aims and content of the PCC, one element of the new training regime

by Liz Campbell

The 2000/2001 academic year saw the introduction of the new professional training regime for intrants to the legal profession in Scotland.  This new regime is an exciting departure from the older methods of teaching and assessment, and represents, for the Law Society of Scotland, a significant step in developing the capability of our trainees and newly-qualified solicitors. Elements of the new regime include a Diploma in Legal Practice that focuses on the integration of skills and knowledge, and a traineeship programme which will, for the first time, be monitored by the Society.  The trainees will also require to complete the Professional Competence Course (PCC), ideally half way through the two-year traineeship, and take the Test of Professional Competence towards the end of training.

What is this course and why are trainees being asked to undertake it?

The concept of the PCC is not unique; other jurisdictions structure training in a similar way. In England and Wales, for example, trainees undertake a Professional Skills Course (PSC).  The contents are different, as is the timing; but it too was born of the recognition that there are aspects of the overall training that are more meaningful to students after a period of practical office experience. In Scotland, too, it was recognised that the experience of training varied considerably from firm to firm and that this variation would grow in the future. Bringing trainees together for two weeks part way through traineeships will enable them to share experiences and learn from each other; and to gain a sense of professional collegiality.

The aims of the PCC are to:

  • develop the knowledge and skills learned on the Diploma and in the first stages of traineeship;
  • enhance trainees’ knowledge of key areas of current legal practice;
  • enable a deeper understanding of the ethics, values and attitudes of the Scottish legal profession;
  • facilitate the development of legal skills and the integration of these with legal knowledge and ethical behaviour.

The introduction of the PCC has been underpinned by a research project undertaken by Dr Paul Maharg of Glasgow Graduate School of Law (GGSL) which was completed in February 2001.* Following publication of the report, a pilot PCC attended by 16 trainees was offered at GGSL in June. The pilot was independently evaluated by Professor Nick Johnson of the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice.* Professor Johnson’s conclusion that the pilot had been a “considerable success” was based upon feedback from the trainees attending the pilot who participated in focus groups and most of whom (13 participants) completed an extensive questionnaire on the course.

The evaluation report contained recommendations which led to the Society adjusting its proposals for the PCC by reducing the duration of the course from the planned three weeks to around two weeks and by altering the content to some extent.

Those charged with the responsibility of establishing the PCC agreed that provision of the course should be open to both external providers and firms offering in-house training for their own trainees and that all potential providers should be invited to tender for PCC provision, according to guidelines set down by the Society. At the time of writing, the guidelines for potential providers of the PCC are in the final stage of being drafted. Invitations have already been issued to bodies we know may be interested in offering the course asking them to let us know if they would like to receive the guidelines.

Content

The guidelines will specify the curriculum for the PCC, which will be divided into core and elective modules. Nine modules, with specified learning outcomes, spread over 39 hours comprise the core. The modules are:

  • personal organisation and time management
  • practical ethics
  • IT and the legal office
  • client care
  • financial and commercial awareness
  • drafting
  • writing
  • negotiation
  • interviewing

The aim of the elective modules is to allow trainees and their employers to choose elements of training directly relevant to work that the trainees have experienced, or are about to experience, in the office. Thus electives will enable the PCC to cater for the high degree of specialisation that trainees are increasingly encountering within their traineeships. A minimum of 18 hours must be spent in elective training.

Assessment

The assessment will take the form of both formative feedback, which trainees may wish to record and use in their office work, and summative assessment. The aim of the assessment is to give the trainees and their firms evidence of trainees’ developing professional practice knowledge and skills. It will take the form of a case study or case file which trainees will be given to work on during the course and will be similar to the Test of Professional Competence (TPC). Although it will give trainees the opportunity to demonstrate their increased level of knowledge and skills since the Diploma, it should not be regarded as a “dry run” for the TPC open book assessment.

Providers

Institutions and others who are interested in offering  the PCC will be asked to submit

applications by the end of October 2001. These initial applications will be considered by an Accreditation Panel and, for the first year of operation, approval in principle, if appropriate, granted by Christmas 2001. Those who receive such approval will be required to complete a full application, to include teaching materials by the end of March 2002. Thereafter, the Panel will reach a decision as quickly as possible. It will not be necessary for potential applications to commit to providing their first PCC in May 2002. 

The anticipated cost of the PCC is in the region of £1000-£1200.

Accreditation and monitoring

A Law Society of Scotland Accreditation Panel will have the power to award or refuse initial accreditation, renew accreditation, suspend or terminate accreditation and monitor courses. The Panel will have power to visit and inspect course provision to verify the information given to the Panel, to gain a sense of the quality of the teaching, learning and assessment taking place and to ensure parity of quality in training across the range of providers. The Society is keen to ensure that curriculum drift does not arise and the Panel will therefore make annual recommendations to the Education and Training Committee.

The PCC is only one element in the new professional training regime, but it is an important contribution to the work-based learning that trainees undertake. We hope that the course will help to increase the level of quality in training, and at the same time allow trainees and their firms the flexibility to tailor the training on offer. In this sense, it presents a new and exciting chapter in the continuing improvement to the way in which Scottish solicitors are trained.

Liz Campbell, Director (Education and Training)

*Copies are available from the Legal Education Department of the Society