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Reflections on supervised legal practice

Reflections on supervised legal practice

By Micah Ramos

Practice & Procedure Practice Essentials 

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The majority of recent law graduates would have completed their legal education through practical legal training (PLT) and then supervised legal practice (SLP).

There is criticism that PLT is too permissive, in that it allows anyone who has completed a law degree to enrol, regardless of their prospects of employment as a lawyer.1 Nevertheless, the legal profession is the ultimate gatekeeper for lawyers through its imposition of SLP.2

Some lawyers are surprisingly unclear about when SLP begins and ends. I asked one senior lawyer about his experience with SLP and he detailed his pre-admission articled clerk role in a large firm. This was very different to the current post-admission and post-PLT position of SLP. Another mid-level lawyer thought that SLP was the same thing as PLT, which she said she finished at the College of Law. In short, SLP could be largely misunderstood.3

I was interested in specific tasks that are SLP in the technical sense. I was concerned about getting credits towards SLP. My research has indicated that supervision is not defined and had not been judicially considered.4 The term “legal practice”, on the other hand, comprised some of the following indicative activities:

  1. appearing in court, giving legal advice, preparing legal instruments including contracts and preparing corporation by-laws and charters5
  2. assisting testators by selecting clauses from bank of clauses for wills6
  3. drafting court documents with affidavit7

There are also legal practice activities which are not considered legal practice, including:

  1. preparation of vendor statements8
  2. producing legal costs assessments9
  3. policy work10

Having had experience in four very different law firms as part of my SLP, I can say that the SLP journey is not straightforward at all.

Early development as a lawyer is dependent on the opportunities available during SLP. I found a practice area that I really enjoyed – property law – during the later stages of my SLP. I also found that the supervision styles of senior lawyers vary greatly and this brings an interpersonal aspect to supervision that is central.11

In terms of the worst-case scenarios, several reported cases and a VLSB+C report revealed the following had occurred during SLP:

  1. sexual harassment (although the act occurred during supervision to complete PLT)12
  2. a finding of professional misconduct due to the execution of a statutory declaration, which was known to be false by someone wanting to remove their supervised legal practice condition13
  3. bullying14
  4. being supervised by someone ineligible to supervise15

It has been recommended that perhaps SLP would be enhanced by adopting the supervision model utilised in the psychology profession.16 This is just one possibility of development for SLP, although the topic currently lacks detailed academic literature.17

I am deeply curious about the breadth of SLP experiences. I am currently revising a manuscript on SLP and am hoping to hear other lawyers’ SLP stories.

Did you find it challenging to land your first role? Were your expectations aligned with the reality? What were the challenges you faced? And what is the best aspect of your SLP?

I look forward to a lively dialogue with you all.

 

Micah Ramos is a lawyer revising a manuscript on SLP.

 

 

  1. Michael McNamara, “University legal education and the supply of law graduates: a fresh look at a long standing issue” (2018) 20 Flinders Law Journal p247.
  2. Ibid 248.
  3. Michael McNamara and Jeff Giddings, “Preparing future generations of lawyers for legal practice: what’s supervision got to do with it?” (2014) 37(3) UNSW Law Journal p1236.
  4. Michael McNamara, “Ethical development during supervised legal practice” (2015) Australian and New Zealand Legal Ethics Colloquium p4.
  5. Dean v Legal Practice Board [2015] WASC 260.
  6. Attorney General at the Relation of the Law Society of Western Australia v Quill Wills Ltd and Ors [1990] WASC 604.
  7. Legal Practice Board of Western Australia v Fazio [2018] WASC 147.
  8. Law Institute of Victoria Ltd v Lydia Maric & Home Conveyancing Reservoir Pty Ltd [2008] VSCA 46.
  9. Defteros v Scott [2014] VSCA 154.
  10. The Law Society of Western Australia, “People Unlawfully Engaging in Legal Work” (Position Paper, 4 August 2017, p8).
  11. Michael McNamara, Towards effective supervision for the legal profession: a focus on supervised practice (PhD thesis, Griffith Law School, 2018) 106.
  12. PLP v Michael McGarvie and VCAT [2014] VSCA 253 (17 October 2014).
  13. Pham v Legal Services Commissioner [2017] VSCA 87 (20 April 2017).
  14. Dr Michelle Brady, “VLSB+C lawyer wellbeing project” (Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner report, 23 July 2020) 10.
  15. Commissioner Determination (supervising solicitor when ineligible) [2017] VLSC 22.
  16. McNamara, above at 11, 171.
  17. Ibid 13.

 

 


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