Did you know that the SRA regime for taking on trainee solicitors changed in 2014? Here is a quick guide to the main changes.
What are the main changes?
For training contracts entered into after June 2014:
‘Recognised training’ = training contract
‘Authorised training provider’ = training establishment
2. No need for contentious and non-contentious seats
This will be welcomed by many small and boutique firms that have previously struggled to offer the required experience, often seconding trainees to competitors – where the good ones sometimes get poached! The other tactic was to use Employment departments as a wild card – either contentious or non-contentious as required.
Now, the changes don’t mean you can just stick a trainee in one ‘seat’ and forget about them for a couple of years, but the strict requirement of contentious/non-contentious has gone.
Instead, you have to be able to offer experience in at least three distinct areas of English law.
3. SRA no longer regulates the employment contract
Whereas before the training contract itself was regulated by the SRA and had to incorporate the Training Regulations, it is now just a normal contract of employment, and usual Employment law applies. It can be terminated by the firm, unlike the previous rules which required SRA to terminate.
The SRA views the training contract relationship as an apprenticeship, so you should be aware of the Employment law implications.
4. You can take on more trainees
If you are really keen to develop your future talent pool, you are now free to take on more than two per partner. So long as trainees are properly managed, nurtured and supervised there is no upper limit, which opens up lots of opportunity to scale your training programme. This also ties in with….
5. Any practising solicitor (or barrister) can be a training principal
You do not need to have four years in practice anymore. Whilst it is probably a good idea in most firms for the training principal to be a senior figure, there is no restriction on number of years experience or continuous practising certificates. People returning to the profession may well be suitable.
Warning: the role of training principal should not be taken lightly – there are a number of duties and obligations, and it should not be seen as a purely administrative role to be dumped on an already overworked associate.
What has stayed the same?
New trainee solicitors still have to have undertaken the academic stage of training (law degree or CPE) as well as the vocational stage (typically the LPC).
There is however change in the wind. Qualification is available ‘by equivalent means’ – the first paralegals to qualify as solicitors without a training contract have already been through the system, and the SRA is keen to open a formal apprenticeship route to qualification, without necessarily taking the LPC (part of its Training for Tomorrow working group).
How to become an ‘authorised training provider’ (i.e. able to offer training contracts)
You have to be authorised by the SRA to offer training contracts – apply by filling out the required form (currently here).
You do not have to reapply to be an authorised training provider unless your authorisation is revoked.
What should we pay our trainees?
At least the National Minimum Wage! There will also be a commercial decision to make: are you going to attract top talent if offering the lowest wages? Are you going to retain them at the end of the training contract after all the effort and investment has gone in?
Viewing trainees as cheap labour is probably not a sensible tactic. They are an investment in your firm, your exit planning.
Expenses for the PSC (Professional Skills Course), which is part of the vocational stage of training and needs to be completed before qualification, must also be met by the employer.
Does a training contract have to be two years?
No, but they will usually last two years for full time trainees. You can offer part time training contracts to widen the pool of potential candidates and provide a flexible route into the profession, in which case the length can be pro-rated.
There is nothing to say that the training contract cannot run alongside a part time law degree/CPE or LPC. With higher education becoming ever more expensive, this could be particularly welcomed by some candidates.
You can also apply to offer ‘time to count’ i.e. time off the training contract in recognition of previous legal experience, such as paralegal work. There is (unsurprisingly) an application form here, and applications are considered by the SRA on a case-by-case basis.
Which forms to submit
- To apply to become an authorised training provider – submit this form. You must not enter into training contracts until authorised
- To appoint a new training principal when you are already authorised – use the online form
- To notify the SRA of a new training contract – submit this form at least 30 days before the training contract starts
- To notify the SRA of character and suitability issues with the trainee – the trainee must submit this form and is not permitted to commence training without SRA permission.
You (and the trainee) have to abide by the normal rules of professional conduct i.e. the SRA Principles and Code of Conduct. So for example, your duties include:
- supervising trainees
- refraining from discrimination
- acting in the best interests of clients
- ensuring that trainees receive appropriate training
- doing pre-employment checks on the trainee