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Thanks to the Access to Justice Act and the Law Society’s rule changes last year, the advocacy door is swinging open. Little more than 300 solicitors had rights of audience to the higher courts prior to 1 October – yet that number is expected to reach about 2,000 by next year. No wonder commercial firms are looking hard for the best way forward to enhance their solicitors’ skills.Access to the higher courts depends on experience. For more senior lawyers it comes with a mixture of accreditation and exemption. Those with less than three years under their belt require development, and with some firms seeking to train all their litigators for the higher courts, there are huge questions of education and skills transference to be answered. Not all firms are coming up with the same answer. Some have gone to the leading schools for expert guidance – witness Clifford Chance and Herbert Smith’s link-up with the College of Law, and Linklaters and Alliance’s arrangement with Nottingham Law School. Others value the made-to-measure convenience of in-house training, and are even bringing in members of the Bar to take charge of dedicated advocacy units. Suzanne Fine, head of Business Development at Nottingham, designed and developed the Bar vocational course. She believes the kind of training provided by the schools is vital – and not just to fulfil stipulated requirements.“More and more lawyers will get higher court rights, but how many will have the opportunity to practice those rights, even with firms expanding pro bono and taking other means for just such an end?” Fine asks.

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