Support for Law Graduates undertaking Practical Legal Training?

The purpose of this post is to draw together some facts and resources for law graduates undertaking practical legal training (PLT), the bridge between the academy and practice.

I will provide some background to the regulatory requirements concerning PLT.  Then I will suggest some resources that might be useful to law graduates undertaking PLT.

By way of disclosure I am an adjunct lecturer with the College of Law Australia, however this post reflects my personal views and should not be construed as authorised by the College of Law.

Regulatory Background

In Australia law graduates must complete practical legal training (PLT) to be eligible for admission to the legal profession.[1]  The Australasian Professional Legal Education Council (APLEC)[2] identifies over 20 PLT providers.[3]

APLEC and the Law Admissions Consultative Committee (LACC) have prescribed Competency Standards for Entry Level Lawyers.[4] The competency standards are categorized into Skills, Practice Areas, and Values.  I understand that there are proposals to review these competency standards, so I will not dwell on them here.  You can view the competency standards via the link at footnote 4.

Each Australian jurisdiction has its own admission rules, and these may incorporate the competency standards by reference.  In essence, the rules usually require that a person seeking admission to the legal profession must provide evidence of academic qualification, practical legal training, and fitness to practice.  See the admission rules (usually made under the relevant Legal Profession Act in your jurisdiction).

Why is PLT a requirement?

In most professions, it is recognized that academic credentials are a necessary but not sufficient qualification for admission to practice.  Most professions require graduates to complete a period of internship or practical experience as a part of the overall qualification.  In the past, the legal profession provided practical training via articled clerkships.  Law graduates today might be surprised to know that there was a time when law graduates paid a premium to the firm’s principal for an articled clerkship.

In Australia in 2006, the Victorian Department of Justice commissioned a Review of Legal Education Services at the direction of the then Attorney General, Hon Rob Hulls MP in 2006.  The consultation and review process commenced in March and completed in July 2006. Ms Susan Campbell produced the Review of Legal Education Report, which quickly became known as ‘The Campbell Report’.  The report’s first recommendation was that PLT replace articles of clerkship.

The Campbell Report made 47 recommendations regarding several aspects of pre-admission training and continuing legal education; I am only mentioning a small part of it here, but the whole report is an interesting read.

(In 2006 in Victoria there already existed in addition to articles a form of PLT via the Leo Cussen Institute, which was established by an Act of Parliament and received funding from the Legal Services Board.)

Articled clerkships had been the subject of some criticism. As Campbell observed:

Anecdotal evidence for many years has shown that the experience of articled clerks varies widely… accounts of clerks who have spent most of their articles year filing documents with the Land Titles Office, photocopying and carrying out other administrative tasks persist…

Several years ago one large firm allocated one-third of its articled clerks to a twenty-four hour roster of checking amendments to tender documents for a period of three months. The clerks concerned considered the only thing they learned from this experience (apart from “bonding” with their fellow clerks) was the importance of checking documents and felt they did not need to spend 25% of their articles year learning this.[5]

The Campbell Report went on to say: 

The central issue of concern is that the system itself contains no mechanisms to guarantee minimum standards and content of training and there is nothing to stop a graduate from being admitted to practice knowing no more than he or she did at the end of their University degree.[6]

Long story, short, the Victorian government adopted the recommendation to replaced articled clerkships, albeit with two pathways: Practical Legal Training or Supervised Workplace Training (SWT, looks a bit like articles but involves an approved training plan and the requirement to outsource training for Trust and Office Accounting, and Professional Responsibility).  Law firms adopting the SWT pathway must have their training plan approved by the Council of Legal Education. Anecdotally, not many firms have embraced SWT in comparison to firms that enrol their graduates in a PLT course.

So the goal is to achieve at least minimum standards of pre-admission practical legal training for graduate lawyers.

Practical Issues for Law Graduates undertaking PLT

Most, not all, law graduates will seek admission to the profession and will need to complete some form of practical legal training.  This could be by way of funding their own PLT, or taking up a graduate position that involved funding of PLT or a SWT position.

Some PLT colleges offer a choice of part-time or full-time PLT courses.  The course design might involve a work placement for some of the course or in addition to coursework arranged by the law graduate or by the college.  Whatever the course design, it must be approved by the relevant authority.

For graduates involved in full-time or part-time work placements at law firms the challenge will be to complete the PLT requirements and meet the expectations of their employer and supervising partner.

The Campbell Report’s comments above regarding the problems with articled clerkships might still apply in relation to the kind of work and volume of work a graduate is expected to do.

If a graduate is inundated with placement work, it is not surprising that the PLT coursework gets pushed aside.  In fact, given the graduate is likely to prioritise the placement work because it is regarded as most relevant to the graduate’s employment prospects, it would not be surprising if the graduate comes to resent the PLT requirements entirely.

It is possible that the employer might share some of the graduate’s feelings; even if the employer accepts that the PLT coursework is desirable, those thoughts might vanish under the pressure of practice workloads and time pressures. I submit, however, that employers and supervisors do have ethical, legal and professional obligations to ensure the graduate actually does receive and undertake their practical legal training.

Other things may flow from this.  If the graduate cannot complete the PLT coursework during business hours (which might involve very long days) then the graduate must somehow make up that time during personal time, and that can affect work/life balance and the home environment.

Anecdotally, those problems might be exacerbated for graduates who are not being paid at least the minimum wage under the Legal Services Award 2010.

In this situation, the graduate is under pressure at work and at home, little time is allowed to complete the PLT coursework, and the PLT is degraded as interfering with work etc; it would not be surprising if the graduate resists the PLT, does not engage with the learning tasks, and does not derive the intended benefit from the training.

I submit that it is in everybody’s interest to provide a supportive environment for PLT graduates to undertake their practical legal training.  Real support would include actual time being allocated (and taken) to properly undertake the PLT coursework, and legal practitioners supporting PLT as a worthwhile undertaking that is important and relevant to building an entry-level lawyer’s competency to undertake legal practice.

Resources

As prospective lawyers, law graduates can empower themselves by identifying their resources and using them in a professional way.

The federal Legal Services Award 2010 is applicable to graduate lawyers undertaking practical legal training; s 39 of the Award relates to special conditions of employment for law graduates: Legal Services Award 2010

Look for Guidelines issued by your local law society; for example, the Young Lawyers section of the Law Institute of Victoria has issued Guidelines for Supervised Workplace Trainees, Law Graduates and Supervisors.  These guidelines provide useful advice for dealing with problems that might arise: Guidelines for Supervised Workplace Trainees, Law Graduates and Supervisors

Resilience and Mental Health is a hot topic for the legal profession nationally, with several firms, PLT colleges and universities including it as a part of their training. See, for example, this post in the Australasian Law Management Journal from the Australian Law Council’s Legal Practice Section: Trying to Tame the Black Dog

The Survive Law Blog is an excellent resource too.

Are you a law graduate undertaking Practical Legal Training?  Do you think you get the time you need to get the best out of PLT? Is PLT important or relevant to you?  Leave a comment below.

 
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[1] Legal Practitioners Act 1981 (SA) s 14C; Legal Practitioners Education and Admission Council Rules 2004 (SA) r 2; Legal Profession Act 2004 (NSW) s 24(b)(i); Legal Profession Act 2004 (Vic) s 2.3.2(1)(c); Legal Profession Act 2006 (ACT) s 21(b)(i); Legal Profession Act 2007 (Tas) s 25(b)(i); Legal Profession Act 2008 (NT) s 29(1)(c)(i); Legal Profession Act 2008 (WA) s 21(2)(c).

[2] “APLEC”; its members are comprised of providers of practical legal education: http://www.aplec.asn.au/aplec/dsp_aplec.cfm

[3] http://www.aplec.asn.au/Pdf/ACFD815.pdf

[4] http://www.aplec.asn.au/Pdf/Competency_Standards_for_Entry_Level_Lawyers.pdf

[5] Campbell, S 2006, Review of Legal Education Report – Pre-Admission and Continuing Legal Education, Department of Justice (Victoria), Melbourne, p 28.

[6] n 5, p 29.

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12 thoughts on “Support for Law Graduates undertaking Practical Legal Training?”

  1. I’m in another State; yes, we don’t want a half-brain approaches – need left and right brains. First a good conceptual model (map). Colourful and dynamic but not confusing, colour could be used to track the money, different colours for different moneys. Perhaps could use Prezi to make it dynamic. I can visualise it…

  2. I am all for innovation in PLT (and legal education) 🙂

    Regarding trust and office accounting – there are some very good flowcharts around – for example, the College of Law Victoria Trust and Office Accounting Practice Paper includes incident-initiated flow charts. I think something more colourful and dynamic would be a good thing, however, as part of a whole-brain approach.

  3. KG, once again thanks for your responses, I would like to enter discussion on other topics – cog processing, graphic orgs, mind maps…

    Would like to see a TOA blog where people contribute to a graphical organiser.

    For a lawyer, you have the gift of the electronic palette and avant-guarde thoughts. Logistics and other excuses for archaic PLT have to be overcome – let’s move the olde furniture to the museum and give way to new ergonomic spaces.

  4. I believe I understand what you are saying when you think the PLT providers should organise the work placements – I cannot really add to what I have already said here other than to say, it is not an issue I have properly investigated, and observe that would be a range of logistical issues, (some of which might reduce the opportunities for law graduates to qualify for admission to the profession), and that different providers organise work experience to differing degrees, and that the admitting authorities accept this. My personal view is that experiential learning is a proven effective teaching and learning method for professional skills; however, teaching methods are mediated by the circumstances in which teaching takes place.

    I believe the flipped classroom (or reverse instruction) is more widespread that some people realise – and this approach, properly planned and delivered, makes sense if you think about levels of cognitive processing, particularly in adult post-graduate learners. Law graduates should ordinarily have acquired sufficient meta-cognitive and self-system knowledge to undertake lower-level information retrieval and comprehension procedures, and to use online instruction effectively (particularly if the new LLB Threshold Learning Outcomes are satisfactorily achieved). If so, this would free up time for teacher/mentors to interact with students, to work on higher-order cognitive processing such as analysis and knowledge utilisation, including problem-solving skills.

    I am glad you like the videos and the photos – I use a combination of Powerpoint, Prezi, iMovie, iPhoto and Garage Band to make the videos.

  5. Hey KG, thanks for all the replies on the PLT, universities are serious about implementing WIL in many courses and this should be taken seriously by PLT providers. ‘Flipped classroom’ is also another interesting fad to considered.
    “…however CLCs would not ordinarily provide practical experience in all of the practice areas of practical legal training required by the admitting authorities (conveyancing would be one example)”.
    This is an example of what I mean about you argue in another direction, we already know what the excuses are, CLCs not responsible for accredited PLT. I think PLT can and should organise the internships (similar to teacher training), use simulations, etc, there are only a few subject areas; also court experience – visits and real pro bono work.

    Teacher training puts trainee teachers in the classroom, legal training should put lawyers in the courtroom.

    I like your videos about your studies. What software do you use for the presentations? Also the photos from your tour are exquisite.

  6. The Campbell Report used to be freely available from the Victorian Department of Justice website, but the link I had to it no longer works. A copy of the report is held by the National Library of Australia at http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/3799772. I am not sure as to what you refer when you say that I am arguing against you – I agree with you that summative assessment is not all that useful in PLT and that well-planned formative assessment is preferable. I also agree that experiential learning is a powerful teaching and learning method, and all things being equal, it is preferable to have coursework well integrated with practical experience. On the other hand, two of the reasons PLT was introduced in my home state of Victoria is that law graduates were thought not to be receiving adequate training during articled clerkships, and that there were insufficient clerkships available to accommodate the numbers of law graduates. On the question of whether the PLT providers should shoulder the responsibility for finding work placements for their law graduates, I am undecided; it is not an issue that I have researched. I can see that there are some practical difficulties for PLT providers in taking on that responsibility, not least the administrative burden it would entail, (dealing with graduate/employer matching for example) together with issues of professional indemnity and so on. Some providers have built relationships with community legal centres to facilitate practical experience for law graduates and I think this is a good thing, however CLCs would not ordinarily provide practical experience in all of the practice areas of practical legal training required by the admitting authorities (conveyancing would be one example). One approach to improving experiential learning is the use of simulations (an approach that has been adopted in other vocations, such as commercial air pilots and defence force training). Paul Maharg’s work on simulations in legal education is very interesting.

  7. Dear KG, I couldn’t find the Campbell report, can you provide a link to it? In any case, you seem to agree with my comments yet argue in another direction. Work integrated learning should be organised by the training provider, not left up to the graduate to find a placement, it’s inequitable. I’m in favour of coursework but this needs to be integrated with practice; for example, property settlements can benefit from teaching followed by real projects. Teacher training puts trainee teachers in the classroom, legal training should put lawyers in the courtroom (;).

    Thank you for the link on feedback, very useful.

  8. I agree that formative assessment is very important in PLT, and skills training generally; I’ve blogged about approaches to feedback elsewhere. In relation to the separation between work experience and PLT, I think that in an ideal world the PLT should be integrated as far as possible with the work environment. Unfortunately, that is not always possible. In fact, amongst the reasons for PLT reform in Victoria (following the ‘Campbell Report’*), were the reports of dissatisfaction of many law graduates with the articled clerkship model (many articled clerks believed they did not get adequate skills training), and the lack of clerkships available for growing numbers of law graduates. The reforms in Victoria, which allowed law graduates to undertake the coursework component of PLT separately from work experience (with work experience still a requirement for completion of PLT), was intended to provide more opportunities for law graduates seeking admission to the profession.

    *Susan Campbell, ‘Review of Legal Education Report – Pre-Admission and Continuing Legal Education’ (Department of Justice (Victoria), 2006).

  9. Thank you for your reply Pleagle. emphasis should be on ‘formative’ assessment based on practical work. I disagree with the idea that graduates undertake a practical component as a separate requirement, it should be integrated with lessons.

    Sorry about the last posting.

  10. Hi Lawreate, thank you for posting your comment. Taking your last point first, I personally have reservations about the usefulness of written examinations as summative assessment in PLT. I feel (based on general education research) that written examinations encourage ‘cramming’ and do not materially contribute to long-term recall and professional learning. I think we need to do more research about what ‘works’ as summative assessment in PLT. As to your first point about PLT only being ‘lip service’, I think that depends on quite a few things, including the beliefs and attitudes of teachers, providers, employers, and of course, law graduates. In Australia, most admitting authorities require that PLT be taken in conjunction with work experience, and as I understand it the aim is to integrate the formal training with practice under the supervision of practising lawyers. In relation to Trust and Office Accounting, anecdotally this is the least favourite subject for lawyers generally (not just law graduates). My understanding is that most PLT providers teach the double-entry book keeping processes necessary to comply with the relevant regulations, and involve TOA professionals (such as investigators) in their teaching, and use fact situations to simulate what occurs practice. In my experience of two PLT providers, they did not use TOA software (I suspect this is because different firms use different proprietary set ups, and so the emphasis in training is understanding the generic processes necessary for compliance, which can then be applied in whatever software environment the graduate ends up using at their firm). I agree with you that the aim should be to inculcate effective long-term learning; law graduate have their role to play in this by applying they learn in PLT to their work experience, as part of their experiential learning. Teachers and supervisors also have their role by understanding the importance of their mentorship during the graduates’ experiential learning, and continuously working to improve this.

  11. PLT is only lip service to professional legal training, the program should involve actual fieldwork to make learning more effective, TOA should be taught with simulations, intelligent software and experts in legal accounting; assessment should be practical and not based on time constraints, for effective long-term learning. It should take into account different learning styles, advancements in learning technologies and cognitive research.
    Graduates have already sat numerous exams, PLT should be about real practice NOT driven by exams, since this also assumes universities have not done their job. Exams on practice is a contradiction in terms and not aimed at providing genuine legal practice training.

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