Map of Revised National Competency Standards for PLT

NCS 2015 PNGI recently posted about the revised National Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers that apply to Australian practical legal training (PLT). The revised standards take effect from 1 January 2015.

I mapped the revised competencies and the ‘lawyer’s skills’ elements. Clicking on the thumbnail at left will open a full size picture. The map provides an “at-a-glance” summary.

For simplicity, I have not include all the elements or performance criteria for each competency. I have included the ‘lawyer’s skills’ elements, because often attract attention in discussions about the competencies.


Revised PLT Competency Standards from 1 January 2015

The Law Admissions Consultative Committee (“LACC”) has posted a copy of the revised Practical Legal Training National Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers (“NCS”).

The LACC website advises that the revised NCS will take effect from 1 January 2015.

Disclaimer: Always check with the relevant PLT provider and Admitting Authority about what is required for satisfactory completion of the practical legal training requirements for admission, before you commence PLT.


The background section in the revised NCS states ‘[w]hichever form of PLT is now followed, all intending practitioners are required to demonstrate that they have attained prescribed competence in the Skills, Practice Areas and Values summarised in item 3 set out in detail in item 5’. This applies to those undertaking supervised workplace traineeships and articled clerkships, as well as those undertaking PLT.

New Optional Subject

Listing of ‘Skills’ component and the ‘Compulsory Practice Areas’ component appears to be unchanged. The optional practice area components were formerly divided into two groups of electives, these are now grouped together, and include a new ‘Banking and Finance’ subject. Trainees can chose from any two optional practice area components.

Commencement of PLT

The revised NCS clarifies the situation with concurrent academic degrees and PLT. An applicant can undertake PLT integrated with the academic degree of at least 3 years full-time study (apart from the time required for the PLT component) AND (this is important) the integrated program is recognised by the Admitting Authority for the purposes of admission to the profession.

For those not undertaking an integrated program, an applicant can commence PLT if no more than 2 subjects of the academic degree remain uncompleted, and neither subject is one required for admission (presumably this means they must be electives), for which the applicant must be enrolled while undertaking PLT, AND the applicant has prior permission from the admitting authority to commence PLT.

Those undertaking supervised workplace training must complete their academic degree before commencing PLT.

Australian Qualifications Framework

The NCS takes into account the requirements of the AQF for Level 8 graduate diploma awards, such as the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice. The training load must be consistent with the AQF requirements plus 15 days workplace experience.

Where the PLT is not undertaking toward a graduate diploma, training must be of at least 900 hours duration, comprised of 450 hours programmed training plus 15 days workplace experience.

For supervised workplace training, 12 months full-time work is required plus 90 hours of programmed training.

Level of Training

The NCS continue to require that PLT be undertaken as a post-graduate level of training.

Resilience and Well-Being

It is heartening to see the inclusion of clause 4.6, which requires training provides to educate and inform applicants in resilience and well-being matters.

Clause 2.2 – Interpretation of Competency Standards

This sets out more specific details for interpreting the competency standards “elements” and “performance criteria”. It expressly contemplates the use of simulation, and requires documentation for critical reflection activities.

Competency Standards Generally

I have not yet compared the Elements, Performance Criteria and Explanatory Notes with the previous NCS, and hope to do so in future.



‘Test Out the Scaffolding’: A Qualitative Comparison of LLB Threshold Learning Outcomes and the PLT Competency Standards for ‘Lawyers’ Skills’

This is one of my working papers, not yet published. I’m linking to it here because it might be of interest to PLT practitioners and I’m keen to have some feedback on the ideas expressed in the paper.

Threshold Learning Outcomes (‘TLOs’) for the Australian bachelor of laws and National Competency Standards (‘NCS’) for post-graduate pre-admission practical legal training include learning objectives for lawyers’ skills as part of a legal education continuum. How do behavioural learning objectives for ‘lawyers’ skills’ specified in the TLOs and the NCS compare? This practitioner-initiated qualitative study borrowed from a ‘grounded theory’ approach to analyze the TLOs and NCS learning objectives for lawyers’ skills. The study produced insights that might inform PLT teachers’ scaffolding around graduates’ intellectual competencies as part of practical legal training in lawyers’ skills.


Law Institute of Victoria – Inaugural Law Graduates of the Future Forum

The Law Institute of Victoria’s ‘Future Focus’ committee, has conducted research under the heading of ‘The Law Graduates of the Future’. This has involved a survey of law graduates and employers during 2011 and 2012. Being unable to attend the inaugural forum in Melbourne, I am looking forward to seeing the material that was presented there and hearing/reading reactions to the presentation and discussion. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you did attend and would like to comment. I noticed that  the LIV’s President Blog, mentioned some interesting issues, including an ‘expectation gap’

between what universities and practical legal training providers are producing and what law firms believe they need from graduate employees

and that graduates tended to rate their skills more highly than their employees.
I have not seen the survey questions or a summary of the responses. I think it is important to look closely at those before commenting on the above finding.
I also notice that the LIV President’s Blog states:

I hope that this will be an opportunity for all of those involved or that have an interest in the legal profession to work together to ensure we are creating “work ready” lawyers that are well placed to address the challenges that lie ahead for the legal profession.

I am interested to learn more about what “work ready” means in the context of the Future Focus committee’s work. I observe that the national practical legal training competency standards for entry-level lawyers (NCS) uses different language, and a comparison of the language used during the 2006 Legal Education Review (the Campbell Report), the NCS, and that used by the Future Focus committee might be interesting.


APLEC 2012 Day 1 – 9 November

At the end of Day 1 of this year’s conference I am feeling that, for me, this is the most exciting I have attended in relation to my interest, the scholarship of teaching in practical legal training.

Professor Peter Lyons invigorated the commencement of proceedings with an enlightened, and funny, key note address entitled, ‘Keeping it Simple: Kids, Romans and Barristers. Some observations on professional legal training in the northern hemisphere.’ Punctuated by some very amusing illustrative anecdotes about good teaching (including some instructive stories against himself), Peter made the important point that PLT teachers are in an excellent position to develop and improve teaching practices in PLT, and that in an increasingly competitive environment, a failure to do so may cause PLT stakeholders to question the value of what is being supplied, and see PLT subsumed into in-house programs. If you have an opportunity to see Peter’s work or to hear him speak, I recommend that you make time to do so.

During the parallel streams, I was spoilt for choice, but settled first on Claire Humble and Ann Beckingham’s ‘National Disclosure Guidelines? What state are you in?’. This was a very useful session for those involved in PLT completion and assisting PLT graduates with the admission process. It appears that efforts to unify the disclosure requirements for admission into a national approach have not succeeded, with a number of states electing to go their own way. The session then focused on the Victorian approach to disclosure requirements, particularly in relation to admission candidates’ who may have mental health issues. Many participants in the workshopped segment of this session were surprised by just how onerous the disclosure requirements in Victoria can be, and the presenters showed use some interesting statistical data to illustrate the rate of disclosures in each jurisdiction and compared these to the rate of disclosures deemed to be “serious” matters (for example, in Victoria the disclosure rate was about 95%, but the rate of serious matters was very low). Given the considerable effort candidates must expend to produce the disclosure documents (including affidavit material), one wonders if the requirements are worthwhile.  A very important topic and one worth following.

Next was my own presentation on ‘Skills in LLB Threshold Learning Outcomes and Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers – a Comparison using CAQDAS’. This was surprisingly well-attended, and I was very pleased with the question session afterwards. I hope to produce a paper based on this topic, and will upload a copy of the presentation visuals when I return to Victoria next week.

After lunch I attend Kathryn Kearley’s presentation, ‘Use of Reflective Practice for Practical Legal Training teachers – A picture paints one thousand words or do thousands of words paint the picture?’.  This is an area of professional practice that is close to my own heart (I am interested in Donald Schon’s version of action research, which involves the reflective practitioner approach). Kathryn provided some very useful background, and strategies for PLT teachers taking up a reflective practice approach to their own teaching practice. Kathryn seems to have a larger project on the boil here, and I look forward to seeing its development.

Next, was a very interesting session by Dr Chris Trevitt, ‘Upping the ante: how assessment can suggest limitations of the ‘train the trainer’ model, as well as possible alternatives’. Chris adopted a conversational approach to this presentation, encourage a discussion with participants about some of the theoretical and practical issues to designing instruction and assessing professional skills. It seems he was leading up to a discussion about the use of portfolios in teaching and assessment, however we ran out of time before we could really get our teeth into this part of the topic. I am very interested in Chris’s approach and will be following it with interest.

The last session before the afternoon break, by Daniel Matas and Dr Colin James, ‘Bankruptcy Court Practical Training in PLT’, posed the very real problem of teaching students how to attend to the detail in legal documents and processes. Bankruptcy Notices provide an excellent case study for this issue, given the requirement for strict compliance regarding the form of notice and the readiness of courts to set aside these notices as defective if the requirements are not strictly followed. Daniel described how, despite explaining the need for exactitude, students made quite common mistakes when they were asked to draft these notices as part of their coursework. He asked the participants what approaches could be taken to teach the need for attention to detail. One suggestion that appeared to garner the room’s support, is taking a face-to-face approach to a drafting session, with peer assessment activities to improve student understanding of the drafting skills.

During the afternoon break I enjoyed a catchup with Michael Appleby who, with Judy Bourke, has worked so hard at researching, designing and implementing the College of Law Australia and New Zealand’s lawyers’ mental health and well-being program of workshops. Judy and Michael have presented on the topic around Australian and more recently in the United Kingdom, where their work has attracted a lot of interest.

I only caught the last 10 minutes of Elizabeth Keough’s, ‘Making it real in a virtual world: teaching the affective dimension of legal practice through authentic client interaction’. From what I did hear, this sounds like a very interesting project that involves working with a scriptwriter and actors to create as authentic a client interaction as possible for PLT interview instruction and assessment.

Next I caught Adam May’s energetic presentation, ‘Designing the Horror File: Improving the learning of Risk Management in PLT’. Adam drew our attention to the neglected subject of Risk Management, and showed us how this is a space in which so many lawyers’ skills converge, particularly ‘communication’ (or perhaps, ‘miscommunication’). The horror file is based on reality, with an aggregation of real life practice dilemmas, a cautionary tale, and some really challenging problems for students to identify and describe.

The last session that I attended to day was one not to be missed. Jacqui Lynagh’s ‘Incorporating the Development of Dispositions into PLT Course Design’ was clearly, concisely and creatively presented, and also theoretically and practically rigorous, with great tools for instructional designers and teachers to analyse and design curriculum with a view to developing appropriate dispositions in young lawyers undertaking PLT. This was excellent work and I recommend that those interested in curriculum design take notice of Jacqui’s project.

So, at end of Day 1 I feel inspired and optimistic about future developments in PLT, particularly in relation to scholarship and research in teaching PLT.



Presentation in November – APLEC 2012 – Hobart

‘Skills’ in LLB Threshold Learning Outcomes and Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers – a Comparison using CAQDAS

I am presenting a brief paper at the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council conference hosted by the University of Tasmania Law School from  8 November 2012.  The abstract follows:

This study analysed the Threshold Learning Outcomes (“TLOs) specified in the Bachelor of Laws Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Statement December 2010, and the Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers for Practical Legal Training, as updated by the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council and Law Admissions Consultative Committee in February 2002 (“Competency Standards”). Qualitative analysis was undertaken using the NVivo computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (“CAQDAS”), to investigate how skills were categorised and defined in each of the documents. The data were then analysed to compare the respective categorisation and definition of skills, and to identify potential complements, overlaps, conflicts, gaps, or blind spots, between the TLOs and the Competency Standards. The findings, and the methodology adopted, might provide insights for future instructional design, content, and delivery of Practical Legal Training programs, and for future reviews of the TLOs and Competency Standards.


APLEC 2011

The Australasian Professional Legal Education Council (APLEC) Conference for 2011 (APLEC 2011) was hosted by the University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law during 10-12 November 2011 at their campus in Quay Street, Haymarket.

Keynote speakers include: Professor Paul Maharg, Professor Sally Kift, Paul F. Wood, Executive Director, Legal Education Society of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, and Elizabeth Loftus.

I have posted my impressions from the conference.


ALTA 2011

I attended the Australian Law Teachers Association Conference (ALTA2011) in Brisbane from 3-6 July 2011.

You can access a copy of my paper here.

I am progressively uploading commentary on the sessions I attended at ALTA2011 via the above menu bar.  Recently added:

Impressions from the Keynote Speech by Chief Justice Robert French AO High Court of Australia.

Impressions of Helen Sungaila and Peter Boulot’s paper, ‘A Critical Analysis of the On-going Regulatory Offensive on the Australian Legal Profession: Challenges to Legal Best Practice Management’.

Thanks to @richards1000 on Twitter, tweets from ALTA2011 are now archived at in .csv format