Editor’s weekly: change is on its way

For those of you have been bothering to pay attention, the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) work-based learning pilot is about to enter its second year. But if you’re one of the many students who switches off at the mere mention of the SRA then now is definitely the time to start paying attention.

If successful, the pilot is expected to result in the abolition of training contracts in favour of a more flexible system that should enable aspiring solicitors to qualify in a shorter period than the existing two years. Well that’s the theory at least.

But the pilot is already running into some difficulties as it continues to face resistance from City firms with large trainee intakes. Indeed, as we reported on Monday the SRA has moved to reassure such firms that the new structure will not force them to hire trainees on permanent contracts (see story).

Currently, firms are free to show trainees the door at the end of their training. Likewise, trainees are free to walk if they feel the firm isn’t the right fit for them. Firms are worried that if this changes then it will be more difficult for them to force out trainees who don’t make the grade.

The SRA, however, is claiming that the pilot is only looking at standards and that the contractual and regulatory framework under which future trainees will be hired is going to be addressed separately.

So why should students care about a row between law firms and a regulator, you might ask? It’s simple – any changes that result from the pilot are likely to have an impact on anyone who is looking to start a training contract from 2012 onwards.

And though the SRA has been plotting to change the shape of legal education and training for what feels like forever it’s plans finally appear to be gathering pace. So the changes might happen sooner than we all think.