In recent weeks, the national Junior Lawyers Division have asked the SRA the: what effect COVID-19 will have on trainee solicitors.
The pandemic has left trainees in a grey area. How can trainees continue to develop their career in a climate in which work is slowing down and supervision is becoming increasingly difficult? Thankfully, the SRA have now provided answers to some of the questions facing trainee solicitors.
Below is what they have said.
The Professional Skills Course
Like many universities up and down the country, PSC providers are delivering the majority of core and elective modules online. However, there is then an issue of assessment.
It would be near impossible to complete assessments to the same standard from home. It would also be difficult to demonstrate effectively skills such as advocacy in a Zoom-based assessment
However, the SRA have given PSC providers the opportunity to show their innovative side. Providers have been offered the chance to put forward ways in which they believe these challenges can be overcome. The alternative assessment formats need to maintain the correct standards for qualification, but at least the SRA are willing to be flexible with trainees and PSC providers in order to avoid delays in qualification.
If you are concerned about what effect COVID-19 will have on your studying, we recommend you contact your PSC provider and discuss what steps they are taking. If for any reason you do not believe you will be able to complete the PSC, whether that be face-to-face or online before the end of your training contract, please speak with your training principle and, if necessary, contact the SRA. Please also try to speak with the national JLD so they can keep a track of instances like yours to make representations to the SRA.
Working from home
The SRA have made it clear that trainees can continue to develop their legal skills whilst being supervised remotely. This can go on as long as is necessary so long as the correct and appropriate supervision is given and the Professional Skills Standards are being met.
Self-Isolation and Illness
If you are required to self-isolate under the COVID-19 guidance, your firm is expected to facilitate for you to work from home. This should therefore have little to no impact on your training providing that the Professional Skills Standards can be met.
In the event you contract the disease, this should be dealt with in line with your terms of employment, as most employers will already have an sickness policy in place.
If you are required to take long-term leave as a result due to COVID-19, your training period may be extended if you are unable to meet the Professional Skills Standards. The period of extension is at the discretion of your training principle.
Whilst the government’s furlough scheme has offered a lifeline to businesses, has created some uncertainty for training contracts.
If your firm decides to put you on furlough, this does not jeopardise your chance of qualifying as a solicitor. The purpose of furlough is to simply pause employment for a specific period of time.
If you are furloughed, you do not need to take any action. You would simply need to discuss with your employer on your return whether it is necessary to extend your period of recognised training, which will depend on the length of time you are furloughed for.
We understand that it is frustrating for the finishing line to be moved away from you at the final stages of qualification, and due to being on a fixed term contract, it is normal to feel vulnerable at times like this. However, the government furlough scheme should be viewed in a positive light which will provide help and security to law firms and other employers all over the UK.
We are aware of a number of firms furloughing their trainees. If you have been affected by furloughing, and you wish to speak with us or the national JLD confidentially, please let us know. The SRA guidance is that it is for individual firms to consider whether your furlough requires an extension of your training contract. Although the SRA’s guidance is designed for flexibility for law firms, it is light on detail for protecting the rights of trainees.