Your training was useless. Discuss.

I asked an experienced law firm partner recently what percentage of his academic training he had used in his career as an outsourcing lawyer. The answer? Less than 10% Now I know that here in the UK, there has been debate for a number of years as to whether the vocational training given on the Legal Practice Course was sufficiently tailored for the large commercial firms, and as a result, the choice of provider and course content has widened, which is undoubtedly a good thing. That, as you might expect, is not the thrust of this post.

Discussion about the latest cases was encouraged in class

Firstly, the classroom based elements of a lawyer’s training take four years via the traditional law degree route. However, non-lawyer graduates can cram those three years into a single year with the CPE conversion course. This raises a number of questions. If it can be done in a year, why take three? I’ve heard hypothetical arguments that CPE students don’t have the same understanding of the law as law graduates, but I’ve never heard of any practical consequences of this. More critically, I would challenge anyone to work with a selection of five-year qualified lawyers and identify those that did the CPE rather than a law degree. I have however come across lawyers who have excelled because their first degree was something else relevant to their practice (a science, a language), and certainly if I had my time again I would have done a business or economics degree and then the CPE course before qualifying.

So, if the core “black letter law” can be covered in a year (albeit a hard one!), why not spend a chunk of those two “spare” years on the law degree either giving more depth in the areas that are of more interest to the students, or create different learning experiences to create a richer understanding of the topics? For example, for the commercial modules, why not teach the students to apply the principles to real world examples (rather than hypothetical problems)? Why not broaden their business understanding with some more commercial knowledge? For aspiring family lawyers, why not give a broader understanding of the emotional dynamics that create a context for a lawyer’s work? Why not arrange the type of six month work experience placements that are common on business degrees?

The second area to examine is the on-the job training. My belief is that the practical experience and supervision that young lawyers get is actually a critical component of their development, and for all the talk about investment in people, once a young lawyer gets on the chargeable hours treadmill, this can often come second to revenue generation. Now to be fair, there are many firms that take their trainee development seriously and do an excellent job at it, but I suspect even the best firms can (and should) strive to be even better. Think world class. Technical training. Commercial (or other context-specific) training. Interpersonal skills. Project management training. Financial acumen. Management training. Leadership training. Mentoring. Coaching.

Finally, with all this focus on effective training for young lawyers, what about those who are “fully formed”? Is training then off the agenda? Is every year another last minute struggle to rack up some CPD points by going to a nearby seminar and working on the blackberry while waiting for lunch to be served and then the event to finish? In my experience some of the best lawyers are those that never stop learning. Always curious, whether it’s a new area of law, a client’s business, a new technology or a new business development opportunity. This life-long learning should be celebrated, not least because these people can be great role models for the younger lawyers, and because they create new intellectual capital for the firm and new value for clients.

To finish, training comes with a cost. But so does attrition and recruitment. While the credit crunch has ensured that recruitment of bodies is not the problem it was a few years ago, the war for the best talent hasn’t gone away. If the training you or your team received in your academic years was not as effective as it could have been, what can you do now, to keep your learning fresh?

11 thoughts on “Your training was useless. Discuss.

  1. Paul Rutherford

    Let’s get even more radical:

    1) Ban gap years immediately after A-levels; it’s a gap from what exactly?

    2) Compress studies to a law-degree / CPE hybrid for two years

    3) Into work for 7 years, then mandatory training in something else COMPLETELY different before full qualification as a practicing lawyer

    Education is wasted on the young: it’s only when you’ve supped deep from the pool of experience that you can possibly know where your interests lie and where your knowledge gaps leave you most exposed.

    1. intelligentchallenge Post author

      Love it. I actually don’t think the gap year “bug” is as prevalent with law students. They tend to be a pretty focussed bunch, and are already thinking about work before they get to university. I like your way of thinking about compressing the training: if we say traditional route to qualification at the moment is 7 years (3 yr law degree, 1 yr LPC, 2 yrs training contract), how could we use that time period more effectively? The possibilities are endless. You could actually role the LPC into a vocational setting, so rather than be taught the core skills (advocacy, drafting, court procedure) and then let them lay fallow until you got to practice them, these could be rolled into a more structured training contract, that taught these skills at the point at which there was then an opportunity to hone them in the real world. A further 6 months of the 6 years could be used for more detailed training in the area in which the student hoped to qualify. Some of the other spare time could be used to cover other skills which are not currently taught but which would be really beneficial: could be project management, a short business studies course, mediation skills, cultural studies, languages….. such possibility!

      1. Chris Sweetman

        An interesting blog again Mark, and a subject close to my heart of course.

        You’ll be pleased to hear that things ARE already changing, although not as radically as some would hope.

        The SRA is about to consult on the future of the Qualifying Law Degree (the QLD). And one of the proposals is for it to be more vocational in nature (though not necessarily to extend into finance and business etc). Also, one of the schemes it is piloting as part of its Work Based Learning (WBL) project involves a combined law degree, LPC and work-based learning experience.

        What’s more, with the likes of BPP and other private providers coming into the Higher Ed market, it is likely that degrees will become more career oriented. Or, at least there will be more choice for students: if you want to be a legal academic, then you can do a straight LLB; whereas if you want to become a lawyer, you can do the core subjects, plus some specialist subjects, but you can also choose some wider subjects like finance and business etc. So watch this space!

        As far as on the job training is concerned, it is likely that this will become more practical and realistic, with delegates being put into simulated scenarios so that they can learn “experientially”. WBL will faciliate this since trainees will need to be able to demonstrate that they have achieved certain outcomes by reference to experiences they have had. There will still, of course, be a need for theoretical training and for CPD courses etc, but this type of training is likely to be increasingly made available online.

        Love the new look and feel of the site btw!

  2. intelligentchallenge Post author

    Super-informative response Chris: a market Kaplan Altior clearly knows well. I think the idea of different flavours of LLB is a really interesting idea. The challenge will be to see how quickly this happens.

    It will also be interesting to see whether as the profession deregulates further, this brings an influx of talent into the legal services world from other backgrounds. This type of cross fertilisation could certainly have benefits.

    Glad you like the new look and feel: I’m still making up my mind!

  3. kowalskiandassociates

    Rather an interesting post and an interesting exchange, particularly from my perspective, sitting on the opposite side of the pond.

    In the United States a somewhat different, perhaps even the saem, crisis exists. The difference is, as you know, is that in the US, law school is a three year curriculum, which follows a traditional four year university degree. Nonetheless, in spite of al of that academic training, US law graduates enter the work place, are admitted to the bar (after an examintaion taken immediately after law school graduation) and have virtually no practical skills. No clerkships or articling is required for bar admission.

    Prior to the onset of The Great Recession, these young lawyers received on the job training for a two year period, for which clients wee billed on a rather handsome basis. The recent economic turmoil has sent serious upheaval here, particularly as clients simply refused to pay for any fees incurred by these young lawyers.

    Acciirdingly, the Bar in the United States is struggling for a solution to the same problems you described. However, there are powerful interests tugging in diverse directions. The powerful law school community is resisting any change (rather ironic in the face of the fact that the 200 law schools that exist in the US graduate far too many lawyers than the profession can absorb; yet, understndable in light of the fact that law school tutions hover around the US$60,000 per annum mark and are extremely profitable). Law firms enjoyed the labors (we do say labors here, not labours) of these young lawyers since despite the inefficiencies of on the job training, these young lawyers were significant profit centers (not centres). And, now, of course clients are simply opting out of the exercise.

    I have covered some of this at and in my recent book, “Navigating the Perfect Storm: Recruiting, Training and Reataining Lawyers in the Coming Decade” (Ark Press, 2010).

  4. f lome

    LPC and CPE (GDL) become invalid after 7 years. So if you don’t get a TC in this time your are out…..this is not well known and not publicised by the Law Society or ILEX. I know I got caught.

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