Covid-19 has brought change and uncertainty on an unimaginable scale across the globe. We have been working quickly to establish what the changes will mean for students and trainees and to separate the fact from the fiction. In a world of fake news, Heather McKendrick, our Head of Careers & Outreach, addresses some of the myths and questions that we have encountered, so you can make informed decisions about your future and find out where you stand.
Q: I am currently studying the LLB and have been told the Law Society of Scotland is mandating that we still have to take our exams, despite having no access to the library etc.
While all LLB students who wish to undertake the Diploma in the future require to demonstrate that they have achieved all of the Foundation Programme Outcomes (the LLB), there is no requirement from the Law Society of Scotland to use examinations, as other forms of assessment are available. Many universities choose to examine students in 1st and 2nd year, although this is not mandated by the Law Society.
Over the last few weeks, we have contacted accredited providers of both the LLB and the Diploma to discuss how they will react to the Covid-19 pandemic. LLB providers have advised that they intend to use online assessments, which we believe could be a sensible and proportionate solution. We have contacted the universities to assure them that they have the option to propose assessment of the outcomes in different ways not already advised or at a different time to that indicated during their accreditation processes and proposed programme.
Q: I’m planning to do the Diploma this year and submitted my paper application a while ago – I assume I don’t need to do anything else?
Universities providing the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice are advising all final-year LLB students to submit their completed Diploma applications by email, rather than submitting a paper application. We strongly advise you to apply online, even if you have already submitted the paper application.
Students should complete their Diploma application as a Word document and send it by email to their respective university. A physical, or “wet”, signature will not be required in order to complete the application process. Students should also still apply online to their preferred Diploma provider.
Digital versions of application forms can be found on all Diploma providers’ websites. Details of the Diploma providers, and contact information can be found here under the Trainees and Students section.
Remember - since November 2019, Diplomas are valid for five years (from 1 January the year after its award). See our website for more information: Diploma validity
Q: I’m a trainee and I’m worried. Will I be made redundant?
A: The Law Society’s policy statement is clear that trainees cannot be made redundant for the reason of redundancy and other avenues should be considered prior to redundancy. The only organisation who can terminate a training contract is the Law Society of Scotland. This policy on the termination of training contracts for the reason of redundancy is based on QC opinion and can be accessed here.
Firms and organisations are encouraged to read the policy statement and consider all other options prior to redundancy. If having done so they wish to make a trainee solicitor redundant, they require to make a submission to the Admissions Sub-Committee of the Law Society of Scotland.
We understand that the current situation may lead to less work for trainee solicitors to undertake. Firms and organisations may wish to consider utilising funding via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (see below).
Q: I’ve heard it’s not possible for me to be furloughed due to the fact I am a trainee and that the traineeship requires to be continuous for two years?
Furlough might well be possible. While it is the case that normally the answer would be no, as traineeships ought to be continuous over a period of two years (or equivalent if part-time), we believe that the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention scheme may make this possible, assuming that trainee solicitors meet the criteria for reimbursement set out by UK Government.
The Law Society’s Admission as a Solicitor (Scotland) Regulations (both 2011 and 2019) allow for trainees to be absent for a period of up to six months in total. Typically this been used for maternity leave or long-term sick leave, however we believe that furlough could be viewed in the same way. We would encourage firms and organisations considering utilising these provisions to monitor the UK Government’s website as it is likely there will be updated guidance about how this scheme can be accessed, for what types of employee and what changes need to be made to employee contracts.
We leave it to the professional judgement of training managers to decide whether or not – at the end of the training contract – the trainee has met the PEAT 2 Outcomes and is a fit and proper person, and whether or not the traineeship can be discharged after the usual 24 months or needs the training contract to be extended.
In terms of pay, for a number of years, the Society has rejected any training contract that purports to pay less than the Living Wage as set by the Living Wage Foundation outside of London. Whilst some trainees may be paid more than this minimum rate, all trainees should be paid at least that rate. There has been no change to this policy and applies to furloughed trainees.
If you are a trainee and have already been furloughed, we will email you shortly to offer help and support.
Q: My firm wants to reduce my hours, but as I’m a trainee I’m concerned that won’t be possible under the terms of my traineeship.
It is indeed possible under the training contract to reduce a trainee’s hours. However, the contract must remain compliant with the Society’s policies on trainee remuneration (i.e. trainees are required to be paid at or above the living wage outside of London as set by the Living Wage Foundation. The same is true of any furloughed trainees).
Trainees can and do work part-time and can move to a part-time status during their training contract. If your firm / organisation is considering this option please ask them to contact the Society, as we can assist them to work out how much extra time you will require to undertake as part of your traineeship.
Q: I’m a trainee and currently working from home but I’ve been told this time can’t count towards my traineeship?
However, an element of discretion is required. We have received a number of queries about the remote supervision of trainee solicitors and the ability of trainees to get the continued training, experience, and exposure while remote working is required.
Each legal business is different, so there is no one size fits all approach. Many organisations will be reacting to events quickly and that communication about what is working/what isn’t working is vital. We would recommend that training managers and supervising solicitors use their professional judgement to decide what works for them, but this might include:
- daily calls
- regular email check-in throughout the day
- review of work by more than one person if possible (with feedback attached)
- making yourselves approachable virtually and by phone as a supervisor to be asked questions
PQPRs can be done either over the phone or via video-conferencing. These can then be uploaded as normal to the Society’s portal.
The requirement to work from home for an extended period should not impact the ability of a trainee to reach the standard of the Qualifying Solicitor and qualify in due course.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your traineeship, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are here to help.