Eight law firms sign up for pilot as SRA pushes on with trainee reforms
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has launched the long-awaited pilot of controversial changes to the training contract. The work-based learning pilot has two strands - one for those trainees with a formal training contract and one - more controversially - for paralegals hoping to qualify without a contract. Eight law firms including Linklaters, Beachcroft and Jones Day have signed up to test the system for those already with training contracts. They will pilot the scheme - which means trainees will have to meet certain criteria to qualify rather than the automatic progression under the current system - with the September 2008 intake. Meanwhile, Nottingham Law School has agreed to act as an external assessor for paralegals hoping to qualify without a contract. They will be assessed over two years across 37 pre-defined learning criteria with either their employer or Nottingham deciding if they make the grade. Those hoping to qualify with either scheme will still have to gain experience in at least three areas of law, but the pilot will include formal recording of learning and objectives in eight areas.However, the SRA has backed down, for the pilot, on its most unpopular proposal that could have seen the training contract reduced from two years to 16 months. Jonathan Spencer, chair of the SRA's education and training committee, said: "We are enthusiastic about the launch of the work-based learning pilot. We will be monitoring its progress very carefully to assess how it is working in practice for all parties concerned and to carry out any modifications that may become necessary."The SRA announced last May that it had delayed piloting the changes, with the body at the time citing the challenge of creating a model "which is robust enough not to be seen as a 'second-class' route to qualification". At the time, the proposals drew sustained criticism from a number of City law firms, who argued that the reforms risked lowering the educational standards of newly-qualified solicitors. However, Nigel Savage, chief executive of the College of Law, argued the current pilot does not go far enough. He said: "I believe that the training contract should be abolished - it is the biggest impediment to widening participation in law."
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