An attempt to quash some of the many myths and misunderstandings that persist about the traineeship, and not just among those yet to take it

Each year, when I visit universities, I am amazed at the various myths and legends that fly around the student campus. One reason I visit law schools is to ensure that students are basing decisions affecting their career on accurate and up-to-date information rather than what they hear on the grapevine. It has struck me, however, that the rumours don’t end at graduation. Together with my colleague Katie Wood in the Registrar’s Team, we hear many more myths pertaining to the traineeship, year on year, from organisations and trainees. Time to do a little myth busting….

“The traineeship must cover certain areas of law”

This is a common misconception. In fact, there is no prescribed area of law that the traineeship must cover. Trainees all work through a set of outcomes during the traineeship in order to qualify as a solicitor, but these have been deliberately designed in order to cover all practice areas, with the focus on professionalism and communication. The sorts of work that trainees undertake will differ from organisation to organisation – some organisations will provide different seats over the course of the two years, while other trainees will work in the same area of law throughout. There is no requirement to offer different seats during a traineeship.

“Traineeships must be full time over two years and at one firm/organisation throughout”

Trainees and firms/organisations may be surprised to hear this is not the case. It is possible to take a trainee on a flexible arrangement, such as sharing the trainee with another firm or organisation, or employing a trainee on a part-time basis. To find out more, and learn how the Society can assist with this, visit the flexible traineeships section of the Society’s website: www.lawscot.org.uk/flexibletraineeships

“I’m not sure a trainee would add any value to my firm/organisation”

Trainees can add huge value to an organisation. Each year, about 475 graduates start traineeships, and many organisations take trainees each and every year, which suggests they consider trainees to be an asset and an important part of their business. In addition to the technical knowledge achieved through the degree and Diploma, trainees often have extensive IT skills, and are full of ideas and enthusiasm which can benefit a business.

Many trainees continue to work at the organisation at which they trained, and can become the assistants, associates and partners of the future. Many trainees have extensive work and volunteering experience which has helped them acquire marketing, business development and management skills, making them a great asset to a firm or organisation.

Trainees can also bring in fees. A trainee with a restricted practising certificate in private practice can be charged out at a solicitor’s rate. Even without a practising certificate, a trainee can be charged out at half the qualified rate, or such other rate that the organisation puts in their terms of business. Many trainees make a net contribution to their training firm over the course of the two years.

“It’s not clear what I should cover during the traineeship. I don’t know where to start training someone”

In the past, there was very little guidance as to what a trainer should cover in a traineeship. However, since 2011 there are outcomes that a trainee must work towards during the traineeship, regardless of the area of law.

The outcomes form the structure and framework for the traineeship, and provide guidance to both the trainee and the training organisation as to what is required during it. Support and guidance can be offered by the Society on any element of the traineeship, and more information can be found at www.lawscot.org.uk/providingatraineeship

“It’s not possible to be trained by a relative”

This is simply not the case. At present there is nothing to prevent a relative training a trainee.

“There’s lots of red tape and costs involved before I even start employing a trainee”

Many firms and organisations are put off taking a trainee for this reason, but the truth is quite different. If you have held a full, unrestricted practising certificate for three years, you can supervise a trainee.

There is no need to inform the Society of your intention to employ a trainee, but you can contact us if you have any queries about trainees or traineeships. You can advertise for a trainee free on lawscotjobs.co.uk

The trainee must apply for an entrance certificate four weeks prior to starting the traineeship, but there is no such form for the training firm or organisation to fill out. There are certain requirements on the trainer through the traineeship; these have been designed to ensure everyone knows from the outset what is required and when. Further details can be found at www.lawscot.org.uk/providingatraineeship

In terms of costs, trainees must be paid at least the national minimum wage, and we encourage all firms and organisations to pay the recommended rate, currently set at £16,200 for first-year trainees and £19,400 for second-year trainees.

The cost of registering the training contract is £30 and the only other cost is for training. During the traineeship, the trainee must complete 60 hours of Trainee Continuing Professional Development (TCPD), and quarterly performance reviews must be carried out by the supervising solicitor. Much of this can be done online or by attending seminars. Inevitably, the training solicitor will also need to allocate some time to supervising the trainee and giving them guidance.

Usually, the cost of TCPD is covered by the training organisation, and we encourage this. The cost will depend on the kind of TCPD undertaken. TCPD has been deliberately designed to be flexible and can be obtained from a large number of providers, or from the firm or organisation internally if a licence is granted. Some providers can offer the full 60 hours’ TCPD for one fee of around £800.

It is also possible for a trainee to apply for admission as a notary public during the traineeship, but this is entirely at the discretion of the firm/organisation. The cost is £273 for both, or £228 for admission as a solicitor only.

“Trainees can never appear in court”

A trainee can appear in court once they have been issued with their practising certificate. At the end of the first year, a trainee is entitled to seek admission as a solicitor in terms of part 6 of the Admission Regulations.

Please note, a trainee does not automatically become a solicitor at the end of their first year, and the procedure for admission usually takes about six weeks. It should also be noted that trainees in their first year can appear in the small claims court and in a summary cause.

Once the certificate has been issued, trainees can appear on behalf of clients in any matter in the sheriff or district courts, although it is not recommended that they appear in a solemn case in the sheriff court at such an early stage in their career.

They can, under the legal aid scheme, grant legal advice and assistance, but cannot be the nominated solicitor on a legal aid certificate, civil or criminal. They can appear on behalf of the nominated solicitor in court.

“You can do nothing to speed up the process of admission”

Part of the admission process is to carry out a Disclosure Scotland check for all applicants. You can contact registrar@lawscot.org.uk a couple of months before you are eligible for admission to obtain the relevant form, and the check can be carried out in advance of the admission application.

“There is nobody I can talk to if I am experiencing problems during my traineeship”

There is a dedicated, confidential helpline for all trainees. An experienced member of staff is available to offer guidance, advice and assistance should anyone need help in dealing with issues or difficulties affecting a traineeship.

We are happy to assist, whether an individual is seeking formal intervention or simply looking to discuss an issue without formal action being taken. Please call 0131 476 8105/8200.

“Nothing can be done if I am bullied during my traineeship”

The Society treats extremely seriously any allegations of bullying, especially those from trainees. The Society has a procedure in place for investigating any allegation of trainee bullying. Katie Wood and the Admissions Subcommittee have powers to investigate and intervene if this is deemed to be necessary.

In addition, the trainee helpline is available to anyone who feels that they are being mistreated during their traineeship. Callers can remain anonymous.

Get in touch

If you have any questions about taking a trainee or any aspect of the traineeship, please email katiewood@lawscot.org.uk or call 0131 476 8105/8200

The Author
Heather McKendrick is Development Officer, Education & Training, at the Law Society of Scotland  
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