What does it mean to be a solicitor?
How standards will be set for trainees and qualifying solicitors, supported by guidance for trainers, under the education and training reforms
Admittedly it is an odd question and one, as a solicitor, you might not ask yourself over your morning coffee and croissant. However, it is one of a number of questions that lie at the heart of the Society’s redesign of legal education and training.
Over the course of three consultations on the future of legal education and training a number of themes became clear.
Many in the profession argued that there was not enough guidance for those who were involved in the training of trainees. The quarterly performance reviews were interpreted differently across Scotland, leading to variance in standard between (and sometimes within) firms, and little guidance and training was given to those training trainees on how to assess progress.
Some of those responding to the consultations thought that the calibre of new trainees was not high enough.
If trainees aren’t being trained as well as they should be, it is clear that they are unlikely to be effective when newly qualified solicitors.
The Society is working to ensure that such problems are eliminated under the new system by introducing an “exit standard” to be met. The new framework will ensure that those who do train trainees are given comprehensive guidance at all stages and that everyone completing PEAT 2 meets the exit standard: “The Standard of the Qualifying Solicitor”.
The final of these three aims is extremely important. To assure a training organisation of what they should expect from a day 1 trainee and, equally, to give them the confidence to know what to expect from a qualifying solicitor, the Society will set out exactly what we expect the minimum standard of a day 1 trainee and a qualifying solicitor to be.
These standards will mean that trainers and trainees know exactly what is expected of them and the standard they are aspiring towards; and, importantly, how they can reach that standard.
Just to recap, the postgraduate vocational element (PEAT 1) is the stage of legal education where knowledge, skills, attitudes and values are learned in a simulated environment. The work-based element (PEAT 2) is the stage of legal education where the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values are built upon and honed. A key change is for PEAT 1 and PEAT 2 to have common outcomes across both stages: what is learned in PEAT 1 will be honed in PEAT 2.
Approaching PEAT 1 and PEAT 2 as a fluid, three year process during which similar outcomes are assessed over those years is one of the most important changes to legal education and training. It means that the vocational element becomes relevant and genuinely prepares the student for life in the office. It also guarantees that a firm knows what they are getting when they take on a trainee.
How exactly will this work? Take negotiation for example. Amongst other things, a student at PEAT 1 will learn the various theories of negotiation, will learn how to plan a negotiation, how to select a negotiation strategy and the ethics of negotiation, all within the PEAT 1 environment. This may include simulated negotiation which will be assessed by tutors. This in turn may be recorded so the student can review and reflect upon that work, in line with tutor assessment.
Using this experience in a simulated environment and their understanding of various theoretical elements as a base, trainees will build on this during their time in the workplace. The idea is that the level and complexity of the work will be ramped up throughout the traineeship.
We are currently developing new methods of capturing and assessing trainee achievement. Guidance will be given to the profession on understanding and utilisation of these methods. It is crucial that the methods are understood, relevant, and used consistently so they can assist all trainees in meeting the standard of the qualifying solicitor.
Some of the areas of policy have still to have detail added to them in the coming months, but the question in the title is still at the forefront of our minds, with the Society ensuring the training profession knows the answer by September 2011 and can hit the ground running: What does it mean to be a solicitor in Scotland?
Education and Training Policy Department. Contact: RobMarrs@lawscot.org.uk
t: 0131 226 8882.
Society hosts Access to Justice summit
The Society is to hold an Access to Justice summit on Monday 15 February. The aim of the summit is to help focus the Society’s future policy work in this field. It also anticipates the Society’s duty to “promote access to justice”, in s 1 of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, currently in the Scottish Parliament.
The programme, for a “Chatham House” type event, included seminar-style sessions on topics including civil courts reform and legal services provision. Many of Scotland’s leading figures in access to justice policy were expected to join members of the Society’s Council and Access to Justice and Civil Justice Committees, including representatives from Shelter, Money Advice Scotland and Scottish Consumer Focus. Paul Brown, chief executive of the Legal Services Agency, and Professor Donald Nicolson of the University of Strathclyde, are among the session chairs.
Ian Smart, the President, said: “This meeting will bring together practitioners, key policy-makers and third-sector leaders, to identify outcomes they would like to see. We want to listen to what people would like the Society to be doing in order to promote access to justice effectively and efficiently.”
The Society will report on the outcomes of the event and there will be coverage in the March edition of the Journal.