ARTICLE CLERKSHIPS should be abolished in Victoria in favour of the Queensland model of a 12-month in practice ‘traineeship’ and a standardised practical legal training (PLT) course, according to a review of legal education.
The plan also allows for training to be completed outside law firms, including in government or corporate legal roles, or community legal centres.
The proposal was among 47 recommendations on reforms to legal education, compulsory professional development and the funding and governance of legal education institutions in Victoria made by Susan Campbell, a former professorial fellow in legal practice at Monash University.
She said Victoria was the only jurisdiction in the country that had retained articles without a prescribed training requirement.
With the recent introduction of the Legal Profession Act in Victoria, allowing practitioners to practise with one practising certificate throughout the country, she said it was important that one state didn’t become the “weak link in the system”.
She said two options had been considered: the complete abolition of article clerkships in favour of PLT, or retention of articles plus mandatory legal education.
“Good quality ‘workplace experience’ is the best method for equipping a person for legal practice,” Campbell said in her Review of Legal Education Report.
“The Committee therefore decided to recommend that Victoria adopt the new Queensland ‘traineeship’ system to replace the current articles system.
“A graduate completes a year’s traineeship with a legal firm or office working under the supervision of a practitioner — in effect articles by another name — but at the same time must complete training in the Competency Standards for Entry Level Lawyers.”
The competency standards were developed by the Law Admissions Consultative Committee and the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council. They cover areas such as civil litigation, commercial and corporate practice, as well as skills, ethics and professional responsibility.
Trainees would be able to complete their PLT part time, but would have to complete the equivalent of a 12-month traineeship within two years.
Law Institute of Victoria CEO Michael Brett Young welcomed the proposals, saying they would not only provide more consistent training for law graduates, but may provide more opportunities for young lawyers to complete training in rural areas.
“We did a review in 2004 of article clerkships, and in that we found that the majority of firms were providing good clerkships, but there were a small number of clerks that weren’t getting any education at all, and were getting a very narrow articles,” he said.
“We think [the recommendations] will take the lottery out of articles and the put the majority of people up to a higher standard.”
He said the fact that articles could be taken outside private practices would also broaden the number of options available to complete PLT, and may lead to more graduates choosing to gain a practising certificate and practise law.
The ability within the proposed new rules to complete a traineeship with several employers may also encourage more young lawyers to complete training in country areas, he said.