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Workplace learning


One increasingly loud


request from clients over the last five to seven years has been for lawyers to deliver more commercial advice, which led to some innovative firms changing the educational inputs at the graduate stage of their lawyers’ career paths.


New pathways into law?


Nigel Spencer, Global Director of Learning & Development, Lucy Crittenden, Graduate Recruitment Manager and Chloe Muir, Graduate Recruitment Coordinator of global law firm Reed Smith discuss the legal sector’s recent changes in educational policy, together with its impact on pathways, and recruitment, into the legal profession.


Nigel Spencer Lucy Crittenden


sectors are undergoing the highest levels of disruptive change?’ However, over the last five to seven years, law firms have been feeling the effects of significant upheavals. The sector’s evolving marketplace has been disrupted by lower barriers to entry, opening up greater competitive forces. In addition, significant shifts in client demands have accompanied a number of regulatory reforms (including in educational policy).


T Chloe Muir


All of these changes are impacting upon firms’ approaches to recruitment and the career pathways from higher and tertiary education to the world of work. The changes offer opportunities for firms to be innovative and to differentiate themselves from their competitors.


One increasingly loud request from clients over the last five to seven years has been for lawyers to deliver more commercial advice, which led to some innovative firms changing the educational inputs at the graduate stage of their lawyers’ career paths. Full-year MBAs or business master’s programmes were introduced, and our firm led the way in pioneering some of these programmes to enhance commercial capability in our junior lawyers.


26 Graduate Recruiter | www.agr.org.uk


he legal sector may not rank highly in your answer to the question, ‘Which business


One important learning point from our innovations, which links to a key theme in the recent educational policy proposals, was the importance of experiential ‘learning by doing’. For example, we noted a capability shift in young lawyers by creating placements at clients as part of these master’s programmes. The placements meant that, at an early career stage, our graduates had the practical experience of leading a client-facing project, managing the client stakeholders, project deadlines and relationships, often ending the placement with a high-profile Board presentation.


Building on these initial innovations, we recently created more opportunities for ‘learning by doing’, this time at undergraduate level, by devising the first practice-focused law degree at a Russell Group university, with Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). This law degree, in effect a ‘degree with apprenticeship combined’, allows students at QMUL to gain a full year of ‘learning by doing’ work experience in Reed Smith in year three, returning to QMUL to complete their degree in year four.


This issue of practical ‘workplace learning’ in the legal sector is topical because of the debates which have opened recently as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) evolves its


education policy. The pathway into legal education for solicitors was historically largely through university, with three core stages: • A law degree (or non-law degree supplemented by a graduate ‘conversion course’, the Graduate Diploma in Law)


• A mandated graduate qualification (the ‘Legal Practice Course’)


• Two years of work-based learning (WBL) as a trainee solicitor in a law firm before qualification as a solicitor


The two years of ‘learning by doing’ in the WBL phase were seen as a key element of the learning experience, with young lawyers often sat with senior mentors to learn in a true apprentice- style environment. Yet these three stages on the path are now up for debate in a twelve-week consultation launched 7th December 2015 by the SRA, as they consider putting less structure around the ‘pathway’ requirements. Instead, the SRA is continuing its regulatory and policy focus on outcomes, rather than educational inputs, suggesting that it could move to a position where it prescribes less of the educational structure required at the current three stages, relying instead on a final examination to test a young solicitor’s competence, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).


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