We launched two surveys a little while ago, both aimed at trying to better understand the training process in the profession and see where things could possibly be improved.

One survey went to training managers and supervising solicitors, the other to trainees. Both received significant responses and we’re now working on how best to respond.

On the back of those surveys we’ve already hosted a training session for training managers, which was well-attended. We have also raised the recommended rate of remuneration for trainees in first and second year.

Soon we’ll bring forward documentation for training managers to help them decide what is – and what isn’t – appropriate for trainees to do once newly admitted. This will supplement the "What can/can't you do as a trainee" page on our website. This blog is a nod in the direction of travel.

The training manager guidance already notes that trainees should not be allocated work without adequate training, adequate supervision, and without having gained sufficient knowledge and experience in the area of work they are seeking to carry out. We hope this blog, and the upcoming information, will help training managers.

A little bit of history

Early Admission was one of the major changes in the 2019 Admission Regulations. Prior to that point admission had been set at one year of the training contract having been completed. No one remembers why it was set at one year but we know that it was moved to that point in the early 1980s from admission at the end of the training contract – likely because the Diploma was added to the route to qualification.

The idea of early admission originally came from the Sheriff’s Association who noted two things (a) that the quality of teaching of advocacy on the Diploma had improved considerably since the PEAT reforms of 2011 and (b) that this improvement was undermined by the prohibition on advocacy during the traineeship for a year, as the learning was not being put into use.

To investigate this further an expert working group was formed. This included the members of the two relevant Sub-Committees at the Society (Education & Training and Admissions), who provided expertise of applying previous regulations and of the development of new professionals. The rest of the group were solicitors and solicitor advocates with significant experience in the civil and criminal courts.

This group developed policy considering all angles: educational development of trainees; a risk analysis looking at the trainee, profession and public; the impact of the hard bar of 12 months, why that existed and had things changed in legal education since that point; and the importance of safeguards. This was then considered by numerous Sub-Committees of the Society and, then, finally, amongst other proposed changes, we worked closely with the Lord President’s Office to develop regulations with safeguards at the forefront of minds.

Those safeguards mean that any trainee admitted early must have undertaken (a) a required advocacy course and (b) mandatory sitting in. Another safeguard was clear positions on what a trainee can and can’t do once admitted.

Whilst there may be a business benefit to early admission, this was not the main driver and nor does it seem to be as widely utilised in the profession as many assume or guessed. In 2020, under 10% of admissions were ‘’early’’. In 2021 that rose to 13%. This year the number is higher so far (30%), but it is best assessed at the end of the year for fairer comparisons. Whilst some are admitted as soon as they possibly can be, relatively few actually are.

Some have questioned whether early admission was the right course of action. The survey responses do note some concerns about appropriate work being given to some trainees, but also many responses noting how useful early admission has been for the development of trainees and how well training managers are preparing trainees for first appearances.

Ultimately, if a training manager doesn’t think a trainee should be admitted early they do not need to do so. It is an option not mandatory.

How then do we ensure those admitted early get the best experience?

In my last blog I looked at how do improve feedback to trainees. This one focuses more on how we ensure that trainees are supported as best as possible in those early months of appearance as they begin to hone their craft.

It’s important that training managers do not have hard and fast ideas when the traineeship starts of how soon a given trainee will appear in court. Whilst it is possible for trainees to appear relatively early in their traineeship, this should only occur if the trainee is ready, able and competent to do so. It may be the case that the training manager would like the trainee in as soon as possible, but if a trainee isn’t ready they should not be asked to appear in court.

The safeguards set out are the minimum. Trainees themselves will supercharge those experiences by reflecting upon the course and the sitting in – we don’t learn by doing after all but by reflecting on what we’ve done.

What we learned from the training manager survey was that there are many organisations going significantly beyond those minimum requirements to help trainees ready themselves for appearance by doing the following:

  • Trainees doing more sitting-in than the minimum 20 hours and enhancing this with briefings, debriefings and the opportunities for Q+A from the trainee.
  • Offering a wider range of sitting in across hearings and tribunals watching representatives from other organisations. This wouldn’t count for the minimum 20 hours but would be useful development.
  • Offering additional training on written or oral advocacy. A number of organisations (of all sizes) noted they did this either on their own or with local bar associations.
  • Allowing trainees to appear in matters where they do not need a practising certificate.
  • Ensuring the opportunity to work on a matter prior to appearance to aid understanding.
  • Ensuring that trainees have the necessary paperwork timeously and giving them the opportunity to clarify matters.
  • Having the training manager or another senior solicitor sit in alongside on the early appearances to allow for feedback.

We are aware that preparing someone for life in courts is more art than science. Trainees develop at different speeds and have different levels of confidence and competence. Some trainees will be comfortable appearing quickly. Others will not be. It should be a case-by-case decision for the training manager even if that jars with your plans.

Trainees may consider that what they are being asked to do is beyond their capacity, whilst the training manager is more confident in their abilities. The traineeship is developmental and sometimes trainees will be required to do new things or things that stretch them. That is a difficult balance, but providing a supportive environment whilst asking them to do something new is critical.

Many court practitioners are keeping a lot of plates spinning and the choices before them are not always between good course of action and bad course of action. It is rarely as simple as being able to sit down and work out the perfect development plan of ‘the trainee can do x, and then y and then z’. That said, obligations as a training manager and the associated guidance do apply.

We would stress though that whilst trainees with a restricted practising certificate are technically allowed to do something, that does not mean it is a wise choice from the training manager to allow them to do so: a poor choice may have an impact on the client, the trainee, the training unit and the reputation of the profession. Clearly, a trainee after 8 months and a number of months of appearances should be more competent and able to undertake somewhat more challenging work than a trainee at 4 months.

I place great faith in the collective wisdom of our members. When we asked those who are allocating tasks in court the sorts of matters they thought were appropriate for a newly admitted trainee, there was a high-level of consensus and was typically instructive. The watchwords were on ‘’procedural’’, ‘’routine’’ or ‘’unopposed’’ in the early weeks and months of appearance before taking steps into more complex and contentious matters. Similarly, there was consensus on what was not appropriate in the early months of appearance: ‘’opposed’’, ‘’complex’’ or ‘’non-standard’’.

As I say, more information will follow as well as potentially other developments that come out of the two surveys. For now though, I hope those watchwords provide a little help to those who are admitting their trainees early and deciding on how best to support them.