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Funding the Bridge Training

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The cost of undertaking the LPC may vary from institution to institution. Limited funding might be available from local authorities and a few large firms provide sponsorship to those whom it has agreed to offer a training contract. Obviously if firms are to provide sponsorship then you must already have been known to them and recruited by them. Hopefully, you begin to see how important it is to make applications and undertake work placements at the earliest possible stage in your undergraduate study. There is no point trying to seek a training contract a few weeks before you hope to start the LPC or BVC in the expectation that the firm which might employ you may also provide sponsorship. These arrangements have to be set up before you complete your degree, and thus you will appreciate the importance of early planning and preparation. For students who have no other means, it may be possible to obtain a professional studies loan from banks.

Competition and Funding for Bridge Training

There is an over-supply of applicants to enter the legal profession in all the various jurisdictions within the United Kingdom, and the distinctive system in Northern Ireland, whereby controls on numbers are set for those entering vocational training, merely shifts the point of competition to an earlier stage than that experienced in Scotland, England or Wales. Places on the Institute of Professional Legal Studies' postgraduate course are vastly oversubscribed. Funding too is limited. Selection is based on academic merit, and the award is intended to cover both fees and subsistence, the latter being means-tested.

Completion of the Bridge Training

Completion of the bridge training in any jurisdiction does not in itself qualify you for admission to the profession. The bridge has to be linked to the last element of the training process, namely in-office training. The following section considers this in the context of the training contracts avail-able in the various jurisdictions.

The training contract in Scotland

Most of those who have embarked on the Diploma, LPC or BVC will have been committed to entering the legal profession. A small number of people each year decide after undertaking the course that professional practice is not for them, and unfortunately a larger number are unable to find a training contract in the profession which enables them to pursue that particular career. For those who are successful in gaining a traineeship this section considers the nature of the training contract in all of the United Kingdom jurisdictions. It gives general guidance on the contractual obligations intrinsic in the training contract, setting out what the trainee can expect of the trainer and vice versa.

As soon as you have completed the Diploma successfully you can apply to the Law Society for an Entrance Certificate. The form used is known as a Notice of Intention to Enter into Post-Diploma Training and Application for Entrance Certificate. Forms should be obtained from the Secretary (Legal Education and Training) of the Law Society of Scotland, or from your own university. In addition to confirming the applicant's academic credentials the entrance certificate application requires a reference from a university member of staff and another personal contact of the applicant. Referees are asked, amongst other things, to disclose any information known to them which would suggest that the applicant is not a "fit and proper person" to enter the profession. The form also asks applicants to disclose any details of criminal offences or declarations of bankruptcy, as both these circumstances can prevent entry into the profession. If you are someone who has either been declared bankrupt or been convicted of a criminal offence, then you will have to make a full disclosure to the Law Society.

The professional body will consider very carefully whether the circumstances warrant your being debarred from admission to the profession. In relation to bankruptcy, it may not be possible for you to gain an entrance certificate, as the Law Society can deem you unfit to handle the financial affairs of clients. How the Law Society deal with your application will depend on a number of factors such as the level of debt, the circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy and your activities since the bankruptcy. Since much of what a solicitor does involves handling clients' money, financial probity is considered an essential quality of a solicitor.

As a general rule, in relation to criminal offences, there should not be a problem if the offence is a minor one such as some road traffic offences, including speeding, but a person in that position is likely to have to give a written explanation to the Law Society and may have to appear before a committee of the Law Society to give a full account of events. If the offence is more serious, perhaps being one where injuries have resulted or it is an offence of dishonesty, then your position is less certain. It is ultimately at the discretion of the Law Society as to whether or not you are awarded an entrance certificate. If you are in doubt about your position you may wish to seek legal advice, as obviously the future of your potential career is at risk. The application form gives guidance on how to deal with convictions.

The need for an academic referee is an important point to remember during your undergraduate years. Referees are under a legal duty to disclose information that is considered material by the organization requesting the reference. An example of information that would be seen as material is if a student had ever been caught cheating in an exam situation or in the preparation of coursework. It is therefore important that you pay scrupulous attention to the rules about academic dishonesty (often described as plagiarism) and the rules governing the conditions for sitting exams. Quite often students inadvertently breach these rules, perhaps by taking into exam hall materials that are not actually permitted, or perhaps by making use of an author's work without properly referencing it. These two types of behavior could be classified as cheating and might put you in a position where you had to have that information disclosed to the Law Society. In some circumstances that could jeopardize the granting of an entrance certificate.

Once the formalities of the entrance certificate have been completed the trainee and his or her employer should enter into a training contract, the provisions of which are prescribed by the Law Society. The Law Society acts to give advice to trainees in relation to training contracts and if any problems are envisaged or difficulties are encountered, you should contact the Law Society for guidance. Although there is a minimum recommended salary for trainees in their first and second years of training, this is only a recommended salary and there are many trainees who do not receive this. Many do not feel in any position to complain, presumably on the basis that a badly paid traineeship is still considered better than none. Since the "traineeship crisis", the Law Society has tried to discourage firms that pay less than the recommended rates, but ultimately it is left to the market. Happily, some firms do pay more than the recommended rate, and it is notable that local government trainees have always enjoyed a better rate of pay, which confirms the value of union negotiated salary levels.

Those who wish to go directly to the Bar still have to undertake a training contract, though it is sometimes known as a Bar traineeship and is for a shortened period of time. Very few students adopt this course of action and it is undoubtedly in part due to the difficulties of succeeding at the Bar. Success depends very largely on receiving instructions from law firms. It is therefore vital to your success that you have a strong network of solicitors, particularly in the Edinburgh area where the Supreme Courts are based and where advocates conduct their business at Parliament House. It is very difficult to establish and secure that network unless you have already been in practice yourself. Therefore, the great majority of those called to the Bar have already qualified as solicitors, established themselves as court practitioners and developed links with colleagues in the profession from whom they may expect to receive instructions once they are at the Bar. Apart from the obvious financial benefits of having qualified as a solicitor first-you may well need a financial cushion to sustain you through the early years at the Bar-you will have had an opportunity to test your skills as an advocate and pleader. You may have done this in the civil and/or criminal courts, but either way if you consider yourself to have been confident, successful and well regarded by your peers, then you stand a much better chance of success at the Bar than if you enter "cold".

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