Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Curse of the Billable Hour?

(Thanks to the New Yorker)


The Death of the Training Contract?

(indentured servants)

The College of Law's Legal Services Policy Institute has published a paper, Training for the Future: The Professional Preparation of Lawyers for the Commercial and Regulatory Environment after the Legal Services Act 2007.

Its main points are that the point of qualification for solicitors should be the completion of the Legal Practice Course instead of after the LPC and a two-year training contract. This means the tension between preparing young lawyers for practice and knowing how to handle reserved activities could be resolved by separating them.

Corporate practice is largely transactional in nature and therefore doesn't require full knowledge of reserved activities. So if a lawyer wants to practice in the reserved practice area (eg. litigation; administration of oaths), then the practising certificate would have to be endorsed showing competence in these areas (ie. extra training).

The result is that we don't need the training contract as a precursor to becoming a lawyer. A lawyer would receive on the job training for whatever tasks are necessary. Bye bye training contract...

Training contracts/articles have always been a form of indentured bondage primarily designed to winnow out the less desirable candidates. How many occupations have a two-year job interview?

First, one had to pay to be trained, then a miserly salary was eventually instituted by a few firms. Now a proper employee relationship ought to exist. If a lawyer is hired then it shouldn't be on a conditional basis of this length.

I suspect that training is rather variable in many places and with that I wouldn't exclude the big firms. In principle the College of Law is right. It is time for law firms to move from the 19th to the 21st century. We'll let them skip the 20th. There is nothing extraordinary about law that marks it out for this kind of distinctive treatment.

I was struck by the comments of a series of managing partners of the biggest law firms at a symposium recently. (Chatham House rules won't let me be specific.) When asked about what made their firms especially good, they all referred to "shared values, a common core". Not a single one realized how this would play with a critical audience that was asking why there were so few women partners or partners belonging to ethnic minorities. For clever people they weren't too reflective. According to them the best benefit offered by their firms to young lawyers was the training.

If your future job depends on a two-year period in which you must demonstrate your adherence to shared values, this could conceivably create difficulty for some groups who might want to contest those values. After all, isn't that what good lawyers do? Test the assumptions so readily taken for granted.