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Training of Law Graduates in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland

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Training in Scotland

Until 1981, law graduates who wished to enter the profession as a solicitor or advocate undertook an apprenticeship which comprised a two-year training period with a "master" supervising the training in-office. The graduate therefore went straight from university to the in-office training. It was recognized that the effectiveness of the law graduate could be improved, both in terms of what they would gain from the in-office training and what they could contribute to their office, if they were introduced to some practical legal skills before entering the office environment. In 1981 the Joint Standing Committee for Legal Education in Scotland, a body which comprises representatives from the five law schools which offer LL.B., the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, proposed the introduction of the Diploma in Legal Practice. The Diploma, subject to certain minor changes made in 1986, remains a compulsory element in the procedural steps towards becoming professionally qualified. It is currently under review by the Law Society of Scotland, which controls entry to the solicitor branch of the profession. The review is being undertaken in consultation with the Faculty of Advocates who also require their entrants to the Bar to have completed a Diploma in Legal Practice, and with the universities which teach the Diploma in Legal Practice.

As at the time of writing there is still some uncertainty about precisely what form the new Diploma will take. Most of the bodies involved with designing the new model are agreed about its aims and objectives, but are less sure of how these might be achieved. What follows here is a description of the current Diploma in Legal Practice with an explanation of the proposals for change and the likely shape the new Diploma will take.

Training in England and Wales

Reform of the training of solicitors and barristers has also been underway for some time in England and Wales. The major impetus has been carried out under the auspices of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education (ACLEC). ACLEC has produced a series of reports which argue strongly that the lawyer in the twenty-first century needs to be one who is equipped with lawyering skills and that these must be taught even if it is at the expense of substantive law. For those who wish to pursue legal training in England, a brief history of the process of change and the current position there is set out below. Similarly, the position in Northern Ireland is mentioned briefly, as that jurisdiction too has been reassessing the training needs of its profession and many changes to the methods of legal training have been instituted in recent years.

The routes into the profession in England and Wales are summarized below. This process of qualification in other parts of the United Kingdom may be of interest to Scots graduates, as it is not uncommon for a student to complete a Scots law degree and then decide they wish to practice in England. This might be for a host of reasons, including personal or family ties, or the wish to work in a large city such as Manchester or London, where certain types of work are available that may not be practiced elsewhere. For example, if you wish to specialise in immigration law or financial regulation you might wish to work in London. Some English law firms recruit Scots graduates directly, in which case they may well pay the cost of prequalifying in English law as well as providing the student with a traineeship. Once a graduate in any jurisdiction in the United Kingdom has gained the professional qualification it is relatively easy to take a United Kingdom transfer test and pre-qualify in another jurisdiction. What follows here are some indicators for Scots undergraduates about how they might achieve qualification in England having started their legal training in Scotland.

In England and Wales the bridge training stage between the degree and the office stage is known as the Legal Practice Course. As with the Diploma in Legal Practice in Scotland, it is a compulsory element of the training process. The Legal Practice Course (LPC) is open to those who have graduated in law and also to those who have a degree in any discipline provided they have completed either a one-year academic course known as the Postgraduate Diploma in Law or the Common Professional Examination. The Diploma and the CPE are both forms of conversion courses which equip the non-law graduate to proceed to the legal practice course. For the purposes of gaining qualification to practice in England and Wales, a graduate in Scots law is treated the same as a graduate of any discipline (other than in English law) and is therefore able to take the conversion course prior to embarking on the LPC. As a whole, both the Postgraduate Diploma in Law and the CPE are intense one-year courses which teach the students all the essential "core" subjects within a very concentrated period. There are however some part-time courses such as that run by the BPP Law School in London.

Training in Northern Ireland

For those who wish to practice in Northern Ireland either as a solicitor or at the Bar, it is necessary to complete the Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Legal Studies (LPC) at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queen's University in Belfast. There are a limited number of places available on the course each year. Of all the jurisdictions in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has made the most efforts to match the numbers undertaking the vocational training element of legal education with the availability of training places in law firms and pupillages. This has been a conscious and systematic choice as it is felt that undue wastage occurs where law graduates are permitted to pursue vocational training when there is no real prospect of employment in the legal profession for all those who might wish it.

Entry to the LPC at Queen's University is through a combination of academic performance in a law degree and performance in the written Admissions Test administered by Queen's University each year. The test is a wide-ranging problem-solving one, demanding both knowledge of substantive law and an ability to apply legal skills of analysis and problem solving. Past papers are available from the Institute to allow you to gauge the level of performance required in the test. It is highly competitive, though it is possible to resit the exam in the event of poor performance. In addition to performance in your law degree and in the admissions test, entry cannot be gained to vocational training at Queen's until a training contract has been obtained with a law firm. The profession in Northern Ireland has a distinctive composition. It is mostly comprised of small firms of two to three partners, and many of those have family connections going back generations. In some senses this means that personal connections are of considerable importance in gaining a training contract in Northern Ireland. As against this, given the size of the jurisdiction, it is very likely that the average student will be able to call upon friend and family connections for assistance. The type of law degree acceptable to Northern Ireland is in effect the professional curriculum required for the English law degree, subject to two or three additions. For those who wish to practice in Northern Ireland there is a choice of undertaking a law degree at the University of Ulster, Queen's University or the University of Dundee in Scotland. The University of Dundee is one of the Scottish law schools to offer both the fully qualifying Scots and English law degrees. The students who undertake the course are a mixture of students from Northern Ireland, England and occasionally Canada.

The structure of the LPC in Northern Ireland follows approximately the structure proposed for the new Diploma in Legal Practice in Scotland. Students start with a period of four months in-office training before starting the core Diploma which lasts for 12 months. This is followed by a period of in-office training. Thereafter trainees return for a further eight-month period of in-office training. They are then fully qualified to complete their training contract and gain admission to the Law Society in Northern Ireland. They will receive a restricted practicing certificate which means that trainees (although fully qualified) cannot practice on their own account or in partnership for two more years.

University of Dundee


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