Getting rid of the training contract could damage Britain’s reputation as a centre of legal excellence, the Law Society warns today.
In a report based on research with City solicitors, Chancery Lane said the proposal to abolish the ‘internationally respected’ period of workplace training would also harm the sector’s global competitiveness.
Abolishing the training contract is an option under consideration as part of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Training for Tomorrow Programme.
Jonathan Smithers, president of the Society said: ‘The training contract contributes to developing practical, professionally trained commercial lawyers and is the global gold standard, distinguishing the England and Wales qualification from its international rivals.
‘There is a significant risk that the SRA’s proposed changes could chip away at our reputation as a centre of legal excellence – an industry worth more than £30bn to the UK economy and supporting 300,000 jobs.’
One firm cited in the research said: ‘The commercial antennae of those who have completed a training contract are much sharper compared to those who did a short placement or no training contract.’
Chancery Lane also pointed out that the regulator seems to be at odds with the policy goals of the Ministry of Justice and Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, which are focused on boosting the export of professional services.
Julie Brannan, SRA director of education and training, stressed that no decisions have yet been made on the future training for solicitors.
She added: ‘We are pleased that firms welcome the clarification around standards for solicitors and have expressed their “cautious support” for a centralised assessment. Such an assessment would address the recognition in the report that there are significant disparities on the Legal Practice Course, and that variation in standards at the end of the training contract is “inevitable” in the current model, as so many training principals are assessing the standard.
‘Assuring robust and consistent standards at the point of qualification can only enhance the high standing of the profession internationally.
‘We have commissioned independent research on the economic impact of our proposals and on the rigour and consistency of any new centralised assessment for solicitors, very conscious of the importance of public confidence in the profession, both domestically and internationally.’