Legal sector work experience beneficial for would-be solicitors

Experience in a range of work-based environments can assist development of important competences for aspiring solicitors, according to research.

Carried out by the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) and Nottingham Law School earlier this year, the study found that no specific environment in particular gave students exposure to the relevant competences. Using findings from an online survey, “Pre-qualification work experience in professional legal education” was undertaken to compile qualitative experiences of education within a legal setting followed by thorough interviews with 23 of the 800 respondents.

Analysing different varieties of work experience, aside from the usual training contract, the study included time spent in law centres, sandwich degree placements, clinics and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) work, as well as working as a paralegal and partaking in vacation schemes.

The study aimed to understand the skills and level of proficiency developed by comparing the types of legal experience engaged in by CILEx members and hopeful solicitors. Requirements for education in other professions were also analysed, such as doctors and dentists.

Exposure to different legal environments provided respondents with a variety of different learning opportunities, according to the study’s findings. The majority of work-based experience provided aspiring solicitors and CILEx members with team working and other transferable skills, excluding vacation schemes. Many also experienced how professional ethics could be challenged within the work setting.

The environments did not necessarily provide opportunity to develop all of the relevant skills however. For example, dealing with real-life client scenarios, progressing case files as well as advocacy and negotiation skills were less likely to have been gained.

Commenting on the confirming nature of the study’s results and the benefit of legal experience was the SRA Director of Education and Training, Julie Brannan: “This research shows just how important and valuable it is. It also demonstrates that competences can be developed through a range of different types of legal work experience.”

Jane Ching also noted the relevance of the research, conducted to gain a more detailed picture of which environments can provide the best exposure for prospective solicitors to gain certain legal skills. The Professor of Professional Legal Education at Nottingham Law School commented: “By looking at a variety of kinds of work experience we have been able to investigate the extent to which different competences might be developed more strongly in different environments. It has also been illuminating to compare the training contract experience with other experiences, for example, those of senior paralegals.”

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