Sunday, July 26, 2015

Blog Content Restored.

I have successfully restored some 300 posts from my old blog.

As I was doing so, I read some entries written by me during the Bar Vocational Course (now known as the BPTC), and I had to laugh… I was so na├»ve back then! I have, however, decided to leave everything untouched for comical value. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mistakes to avoid during legal work experience.

I did my share of legal work experience placements/mini-pupillages back in the day (as well as marshalling with a circuit judge once). Added with the experience of being a Solicitor and at times being in charge of work experience students, I wanted to share some wisdom on what annoying, and surprisingly common, mistakes can create a very bad impression about you.

The main thing to realise is that, no matter how perfect they are, work experience students are often a burden. The firm is doing you a favour by letting you come into their office. Keeping this in mind, you should aim to minimise any disruption during your stay as much as possible. If you are also useful, for instance by helping the admin staff with photocopying, answering the phone or even going to buy milk (probably the most important out of the listed tasks), you are likely to be remembered positively.

The post was written with smaller firms in mind, but it should still serve as a useful read for any aspiring lawyers.

Bad Manners.

You would think that aspiring lawyers, of all candidates, should at least know their manners. And I don’t mean knowing which fork to use. I am talking about the most basic social etiquette. There is nothing worse than facing someone with complete disregard for personal space, who talks over you, tries to criticise your work, in order to appear ‘knowledgeable’, or makes inappropriate jokes. No one will put up with such conduct.

It goes without saying, but you must dress appropriately, avoid wearing strong perfume/aftershave, and just try to be as neutral and as invisible as possible.

Unhelpful Attitude.

Refusing to do certain tasks, or complain about it, will create a bad impression about you. Everyone understands that you are trying to improve your CV, but the reality is that you are very unlikely to be exposed to any ‘real’ work, such as drafting pleadings or conducting conferences with experts. You will probably be asked to assist with admin work, such as photocopying, filing, answering the phone and making tea. If you consider that admin work is beneath you, because you have a Distinction in your LPC, then you are bound to be very disappointed if you ever get a Training Contract. Also, no one likes arrogant or ungrateful people.

If you are lucky, a fee earner may have some spare time to discuss a case with you, or even give you a simple drafting task. The issue is that, in today’s economic climate, and the resulting staff shortages, everyone is usually insanely busy, and being ‘dumped’ with a work experience student may seem like the worst thing that can happen to you on a Monday morning, when all you wish to do is get on with your work without any interruptions.

Engaging in Office Gossip.

Everyone should refrain from gossiping in any workplace, but doing so during work experience in particular could be a fatal mistake. It is a bad idea to complain, criticise others or engage in any form of office gossip, as fun as it may appear. You may think that taking someone’s side will help you in making contacts, but it has quite the opposite effect. People will think that you are unprofessional and not trustworthy; in other words, an undesirable co-worker.

Not Knowing Your Place.

Don’t bother trying to show off your legal knowledge, unless you are being asked a specific question, because it impresses no one and you will probably get it wrong, making a fool out of yourself. No one wants to hear your ‘advice’ on a case strategy either. Namedropping gets you nowhere. Using long words makes you look pretentious. Know your place, don’t butt into conversations and have realistic expectations of your work experience.

Some Final Thoughts

With the right attitude, it is possible to make the most of your work experience, or even turn it into a job. All you have to do is be helpful, polite and respectful.

Monday, February 23, 2015

‘Equivalent means’ may grant an exemption from a training contract.

Under the new SRA Training Regulations 2014, a new concept of ‘equivalent means’ has been introduced, which may grant an exemption from certain modules on the Legal Practice Course, the Professional Skills Course or even a Training Contract. The process is not simple, and it is further complicated by a very ambiguous section on the SRA’s website, with little guidance on what evidence is sufficient.

Still, this is great news, as we now have an alternative route to qualifying as a Solicitor, which does not require either the old-style Training Contract, or the new apprenticeship (or whatever it’s called now).

The SRA defines ‘equivalent means’ as follows:

Regulation 2.2 of the Training Regulations 2014 allows us to recognise that the knowledge and skills outcomes (and the standard at which they must be acquired) may have been achieved by an individual through other assessed learning and work based learning.’

Below are some of the key points to consider when applying for a training contract exemption:-

  • The application costs £600
  • The application is usually processed within 12 weeks
  • You need to have undertaken ‘relevant work-based learning’
  • Your application must be supported by evidence which SRA considers to be relevant, sufficient and adequate.
  • Regulation 12.1 of the Training Regulations 2014 will be considered in assessing your work experience, which will include ‘how you have worked alongside solicitors, the legal nature of the work you have undertaken, the level of supervision, feedback and appraisals and interaction with clients or similar’. You, therefore, will need to demonstrate:
    • supervision by a solicitor with a practising certificate (or a practising barrister – Reg.13.1(a))
    • experience in at least 3 distinct areas of English and Welsh law and practice (contentious/non-contentious, no less than 3 months per area)
    • regular reviews & appraisals
  • You need to meet the requirements of the SRA’s character and suitability test
    • certain criminal convictions, or even warnings from the police, as well as being caught with academic plagiarism or cheating, may prevent you from being admitted as a solicitor
  • Qualified barristers (presumably those who have completed a pupillage) cannot use this route; instead, they should seek admission under the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme Regulations.
  • Chartered Legal Executives, who have completed the LPC, can get an exemption from the period of recognised training.
  • Assistant Justices' Clerks, who have served for at least five years out of the last 10 years in the Magistrates' Courts Service as an Assistant Justices' Clerk before attending the LPC, can get an exemption from the period of recognised training.

In your application for an exemption, you must provide details of the following:-

  • the duration of your work experience and the number of hours worked (e.g. per week)
  • the level of employment and how much responsibility you held
  • the nature of work undertaken relevant to the outcomes claimed
  • the jurisdiction to which your experience relates, and
  • details of how you were supervised, if at all (a trick question?)

You must support all work experience with references from employers, which:-

  • corroborate the work experience evidence provided
  • are written by a named persons who could be contacted for verification, if necessary; and
  • are written for the purpose of this application.

A brief look at the 'Equivalent Means - Period of Recognised Training' application form shows that it contains 24 pages and 11 sections. It brought back painful memories of completing pupillage applications and that awful OLPAS/Pupillage Portal creature. It has a strange-looking table, called ‘the assessment table’, which has 42 ‘outcomes’ to be demonstrated, from the ability to identify the relevant law and using ‘clear, concise and unambiguous’ language, to being good at  problem solving and treating your colleagues with respect. I wonder if that last bit could be better achieved through a contentious or a non-contentious area? And as for evidence, what could you possibly attach? A letter from a colleague, confirming how respectful you are?

The supporting references must be written by a named, contactable person, be recent (within 3 months prior to the application being received), be written for the purpose of the application, and be on letter-headed paper (or send from professional email accounts, where possible). Oh, and the referees must not be personal friends or family members.

As someone who has had to submit evidence of their equivalent their experience in order to be admitted as a solicitor, I can empathise with those intending to apply for an exemption using this awful form. It may seen very unfair to those who have worked alongside the ‘formal’ trainees and did essentially the same job, yet they have to go to such great lengths to prove that they have acquired the same standard of training and knowledge.

I will be looking at the application form in more detail soon. In the meantime, feel free to share your experiences of completing it.

Useful Links

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ban on inducements in Personal Injury claims.

Under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, solicitors (including alternative business structures) are banned from making inducements for claims in relation to personal injury or death, whether directly or indirectly. In particular:

  • s.58(2): it is now an offence to offer a benefit as an inducement to encourage a person, or likely to have an effect of encouragement, to make a claim or seek advice with a view to making a claim;
  • s.58(3): it is irrelevant as to how the offer is made, who benefits from it, whether it is conditional, or when the benefit is received;
  • s.58(4): if a third party offers a benefit on behalf of the regulated person, it is is still an offence;
  • s.58(5): benefits in respect of legal fees, disbursements and ATE insurance may soon constitute banned inducements, but not yet.

I thought that they were intending to ban the financial benefit, but the act simply states that an inducement includes ‘any benefit, whether or not in money or other property and whether temporary or permanent…’ (s.60(2)). So would offering legal advice in a particular language constitute an offence? Or how about offering appointments on a weekend?

These measures are aimed to:

  • discourage fraudulent and grossly exaggerated claims
  • discourage a compensation culture
  • improve the quality of service
  • lower the insurance premiums, of course (according to Christopher Grayling).

So essentially they are saying that a small cash advance or a gift, such as an iPad or some other inexpensive gadget, encourages people to exaggerate their claims grossly (and fool their lawyers). It also apparently makes people make claims up, which the unsuspecting and naive solicitors will not see through.

The Government is trying to prevent PI solicitors from utilising some of the traditional and most basic marketing techniques by making it an offence, and PI solicitors are, once again, portrayed as some scumbags, promoting fraudulent claims and adding to the ‘compensation culture’.

I cannot wait for similar measures to be introduced in respect of the the insurance industry. I am sick to death of hearing that I could save £200 on my car insurance (in Sharon Osbourne’s annoying voice, which makes me want to punch my radio every time), with their cheap ‘collectible’ toys, that look nothing like the cute meerkats in the adverts (I say it’s misrepresentation!).

Also, when are we getting a reduction to our insurance premiums, because mine keep going up?

Sources & Further reading:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I am back.

Here I am, returning to blogging after a 2.5 year break.

Not that anyone will remember or care, but my old blogger name, accedas-ad-curiam, had been taken by spammers when I deleted my account, so I had utilised a shortened version of that meaningless phrase. I actually like it better.

It is sad to see that most of the legal blogs that I followed back in the day are gone. We had a great little community, which I have missed a lot.

Do people even read blogs nowadays?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How to become a solicitor without a training contract.

Those who have followed my former blog will know that I myself have qualified as a Solicitor without completing a formal training contract. Being a Bar Vocational Course graduate, I was able to cross-qualify under the old Qualified Lawyers Transfer Regulations 2009, which unfortunately ceased to exist as of 31 March 2010.

A new window of opportunity may have opened under the SRA Training Regulations 2014, which were introduced on 1 July 2014.

Under the new rules, you are no longer required to complete a formal training contract to qualify as a solicitor (although this statement is a bit misleading). I was surprised to learn that so many aspiring solicitors are not aware of the above changes to the training system, which was one of the reasons to prompt me to return to blogging.

Instead of a training contract, you must complete a ‘period of recognised training’, of no less than 2 years full-time (normally), following or during the Legal Practice Course. You also need to complete the Legal Practice Course, obviously.

Some other interesting features of the 2014 Regs are as follows:-

  • A training principal may either be a practising solicitor or a practising barrister
  • The firm, where the experience is gathered, must have the approved education provider status
  • Training can take place during, or after, the LPC
  • You will need experience in at least three distinct areas of law and practice (contentious and non-contentious)
  • Firms have discretion to recognise relevant prior experience to reduce the period of training by up to 6 months
  • The prior experience needs to be from the past 3 years and only includes the law of England & Wales
  • The firm may terminate the training under certain circumstances (without having to obtain a permission from the SRA)

I will blog on all of the above, and more.

BVC/BPTC Graduates

I would have to look into this in more detail, but according to this page, BVC/BPTC graduates may have some permitted exemptions from attendance and assessment in some areas of the LPC as follows:

  • The BVC graduates are exempt from litigation, advocacy, drafting, practical legal research and two vocational electives.
  • The BPTC graduates are exempt from all of the above, except for practical legal research. Do future barristers leave all of their research to solicitors?!

The question is – do they still have to pay the full fee of the LPC? Or are there any special fast-track courses? I will investigate.

Useful links:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fast-track LPC for BVC/BPTC graduates

Thanks to the Legal Cheek, I found out about the Accreditation of prior learning (APL) policy on the SRA’s website (which has been published in May 2012!). This will allow BVC/BPTC graduates to undertake a fast-track LPC course in order to become eligible to undertake a registered Training Contract.

For more info, go here >>>