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Practical legal training

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Cite as: (2007) 81(7) LIJ, p. 72


All the way with PLT

From 1 July next year Victoria will replace articles with a practical legal training module.

For more than 30 years, practical legal training (PLT) courses have been offering postgraduate, pre-admission training for entry-level lawyers in Australia.

In Victoria, the trend began with the six-month PLT course offered by the Leo Cussen Institute as an alternative to articles.

As well as Leo Cussen, the College of Law (Victoria) and Monash University are now authorised by the Council of Legal Education as PLT providers.

Partly because such courses can ensure that every new lawyer has comparable training and experience at the point of entering the legal profession, they have replaced articles entirely in NSW and SA.

For some years, the UK has required young solicitors to undertake a comparable PLT course, followed by two years of supervised employment as a lawyer, working under a training contract with a law firm.

Since 2004, Queensland has supplanted articles with a similar model. It combines the common curriculum of PLT courses with 12 months supervised workplace training for trainee lawyers.

From 1 July 2008, Victoria will replace articles with a similar model.

The new arrangements fundamentally recharacterise the old relationship of principal and clerk, with its Dickensian overtones of noblesse oblige.

A trainee will enter into a training plan with an employer. New Legal Profession (Admission) Rules will set out a template for training plans which the Board of Examiners will adapt for common use, after discussion with prospective employers.

The plan for each trainee must set out how each element of a common curriculum, which will also be prescribed by the new Rules, will be delivered.

It will also nominate in advance qualified supervisors who will have daily responsibility for overseeing the work of a trainee, at different stages during the 12-month workplace training.

The new system is designed to provide:

  • clearer mutual expectations for employers, supervisors and trainees;
  • better quality instruction in key values, skills and practice areas;
  • better supervision, feedback and mentoring for trainees; and
  • greater accountability for all participants in implementing the training plan.

Key PLT competencies

In 2000, the Law Admissions Consultative Committee endorsed key PLT competencies for entry-level lawyers to be delivered by every approved PLT course provider in Australia.

They provide for instruction in ethics and professional responsibility and in the key skill areas of lawyer’s skills, problem solving, work management & business skills, and trust office accounting.

In addition, each student must be instructed in the practice areas of civil litigation, commercial and corporate practice, and property practice, plus two further optional practice areas.

Each of these topics is divided into discrete elements and key performance indicators are specified for each element.

The PLT competencies are kept under review by the Law Admissions Consultative Committee.

The present version will be set out in a Schedule to the new Rules.

The Council of Legal Education will have power to adjust them from time to time on the recommendation of the Law Admissions Consultative Committee, in order to maintain consistency throughout Australia.

The current PLT competencies can be found at http://www.cleaa.asn.au/pdf/Competency_Standards_for_Entry_Level_Lawyers.pdf

The new Victorian arrangements will require that every employer, supervisor and trainee is mutually and individually responsible for ensuring that each trainee employed receives instruction in each of these topics and meets the relevant performance criteria.

Training plan

As soon as practicable, the Board of Examiners will adopt a template for a training plan to be executed by each employer, supervisor and trainee and publish it on its website.

Each training plan must set out how each of the PLT competencies will be delivered to the particular trainee and whether this will be done by the employer or an approved PLT provider.

Each completed plan must be submitted to the Board of Examiners for approval, in much the same way as articles of clerkship are presently approved.

In every case, ethics and professional responsibility must be taught and assessed externally, by an approved PLT provider.

Lawyer’s skills will also often be taught externally, although particular employers who demonstrate that they employ appropriate and skilled teachers may be approved to offer it internally.

Other elements may be offered either by an employer or an approved PLT provider.

The choice will depend on an employer’s assessment of the skills available in an organisation and the resources required to develop and deliver appropriate training.

Sometimes it may be more cost-effective for an employer, and better for a trainee, to work in tandem with an authorised PLT provider, which might deliver courses to a trainee at its own premises, at the premises of an employer or online.

If a particular employer wishes to be approved to deliver components of Lawyer’s Skills to the employer’s trainees, an application must be made to, and approved by, the Board of Examiners.

Possible employers

The present Admission Rules limit the categories of potential employers of articled clerks. Special permission is necessary for practitioners employed outside legal firms to take on a clerk.

Under the new Rules, supervised workplace training may be undertaken with a wider class of employers, such
as government offices and commercial organisations.

The training plan must simply ensure that the trainee receives required training in the PLT competencies and daily supervision by a qualified supervisor.

Qualified supervisors

From a trainee’s point of view, the key players will become the qualified supervisors nominated in a training plan, rather than the employer or principal.

An eligible supervisor must have had at least five years practising as, or working generally in the manner of, a barrister or solicitor and the last three practising or working in such a way.

Together with the employer, each nominated supervisor must give a personal undertaking to the Board of Examiners to use best endeavours to ensure that:

  • the trainee is properly and thoroughly instructed in the practice and profession of a legal practitioner;
  • the trainee gains practical experience in the legal business transacted in the employer’s operations;
  • the trainee is given every opportunity, under appropriate supervision, to participate in giving legal advice and drafting legal documents; and
  • if the trainee diligently undertakes tasks nominated by the supervisor and employer, consistently with the training plan, the trainee is admitted to the legal profession.

Each nominated supervisor must execute the training plan, as well as a representative of the employer.

Certification of results

When a trainee applies for admission, the employer and each supervisor will have to swear an affidavit.

The employer must reveal any changes to either the nominated supervisors, or to the way each component of the training plan was delivered.

Similarly, each supervisor must reveal any departures from the training plan during that person’s supervision and any matters about which the supervisor was not satisfied by the trainee.

Each approved PLT provider who delivered training components must also certify that the relevant training and any assessment was satisfactorily completed.

How to find out more

The Board of Examiners is presently preparing a template for training plans and devising the necessary procedures to implement the new scheme.

Advertisements will shortly appear for the staff of a new joint Secretariat for the Council of Legal Education and the Board of Examiners.

The Board of Examiners also proposes to conduct information sessions for members of the legal profession and prospective employers in the coming months.

As soon as they are available, details of these sessions and of the various procedures and templates adopted by the Board of Examiners will be made available on its website, a link to which appears at http://www.supremecourt.vic.gov.au


PROFESSOR SANDFORD CLARK is a special counsel with Blake Dawson Waldron. He is also a member of the Council of Legal Education’s Rules Revision Committee and Law Admissions Consultative Committee chair.

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