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Private scheme offers third way traineeship

New model aims to make UK trained lawyers more attractive than outsourcing

27 September 2011

A new training contract model launched this week will match candidates with law firms in a flexible framework allowing firms to adjust trainee intake depending on current business needs.

Set up by former Hogan Lovells lawyer Susan Cooper, Acculaw will act as a clearing house for law firms seeking trainees, without the traditional drawbacks of managing trainees directly – such as the need to plan recruitment two years in advance and the upfront costs of funding future trainees through law school.

“There is pressure on law firms to outsource to low-cost jurisdictions, which, combined with the recession, means there is greater volatility in the trainees recruitment market,” Cooper told Solicitors Journal.

One key advantage of her service, she said, is that it will offer firms trainees who have gone through their academic training and are ready to start.

Cooper also referred to the dramatic drop in the number of training contracts and the threat posed by legal process outsourcing for UK-trained lawyers. “The Acculaw model aims to make training UK-based future lawyers a more attractive proposition to firms and in-house legal departments,” she said.

Acculaw is not a law firm; it has been approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority as an authorised training establishment. The organisation will recruit trainees who will be seconded to law firms under a service contract but it remains responsible for ensuring SRA training requirements are met.

So far one firm, Olswang, has signed up to be part of the Acculaw pilot, but Cooper said she hoped to have firm orders by Christmas.

Firms must commit to taking on trainees for a minimum number of months between three and six months depending on the size of the firm.

Smaller firms and in-house departments with lower needs will be able to join a consortium of similar firms sharing a pool of trainees.

Firms will be charged a fee per trainee which Cooper said had not been finalised. She confirmed trainees would be paid “more than £20,000 a year”.

Acculaw comes to market only months after the Solicitors Regulation Authority decided not to roll out its ‘work-based learning’ pilot scheme. In August a report by Middlesex University for the SRA found that law firms, while supporting this alternative route to the profession as a fairer system, had doubts the scheme was workable on a larger scale.

Changing circumstances

Changing circumstances will demand that the sector seriously considers whether different models of education and training are feasible or appropriate.

This is already apparent in the degree/LPC sector where two-year degrees, accelerated degrees and exempting degrees have all emerged in recent years.

We have learned from the external assessment part of the SRA’s WBL pilot that individuals can be effectively supported in combination by both internal and external resources. And for some people there will be something to be said for the opportunity to work in more than one organisation during their training contract.

To some extent, where firms merge or where there are secondments, or even wide differences in practice between departments in the same organisation, this happens already.

The key factors, for the young lawyers, will be whether Acculaw can obtain

sufficient business to support this model and whether, having trained in this way, which may demand additional stamina and flexibility, it enhances, or at least does not diminish, chances of obtaining a post-qualification job.

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