Tucked away in the new year’s press was an announcement of an apprenticeship route to qualification as a solicitor. I wondered why and when the profession abandoned the five-year article route.
Over the years there have been, as there is now, a number of different routes to train and qualify as a solicitor. Before 1980, there was a Part One examination for school leavers and non-law graduates following a one-year course for school leavers or optional six-month course for non-law graduates. All candidates took the Part Two examination after an optional six-month course.
In 1980 the Common Professional Examination for non-law graduates and Solicitors’ First Examination for school leavers were introduced. The Final Exam replaced Part Two. In 1985 compulsory continuing education for newly qualified solicitors was introduced. In the late 1980s it was then considered that the usual method of entry to the profession should be via a law degree. Interestingly there were concerns that the falling birth rate would lead to fewer graduates.
The main aim of any changes was to improve the quality of training. Any system of education was and is affected by variables outside the Law Society’s control such as the willingness or otherwise of government or banks to fund education, the birth rate, and the attractiveness of other professions. The last First exam was August 1993 and the final Final was 1994 (if you see what I mean).
Documents show that law colleges were firmly against non-graduates entering the profession but local law societies were equally supportive of the opposite view. There has always been a non-graduate entry route to the profession – namely as a legal executive (which is sometimes overlooked). And in the 1980s it was felt the FILEX route should be better publicised.
The aim of any professional training regime must be to attract the best applicants, so that talented individuals are not dissuaded by lack of money, or their background. The profession has always been competitive and unlike other careers has enjoyed a flexible approach to different ways to qualify. That must continue. Here are some other ideas:
Apprenticeships should be welcomed provided they are properly funded, open to small firms as well as large concerns, and provide a rigorous training. The legal executive route still needs to be better publicised. There ought to be system of modules of training which can be built up at different places of work or study, including backdated experience.
I am extremely grateful for the information provided by Joao Curro of the Law Society library. Any errors are mine.
David Pickup is a partner in Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott