LAW STUDENTS who either don’t or can’t pursue an article clerkship in Western Australia are still forced to finalise practical legal training (PLT) in New South Wales, including learning that state’s laws and regulations.
After having completed the NSW content-based course offered only online, WA students must then use the mutual recognition scheme to have their NSW admission acknowledged in their home state, which could have serious ramifications for the profession according to one WA lawyer.
John Poulsen, managing partner of Minter Ellison’s Perth office, said that although the big national firms are getting enough graduates through their article clerkship programs to satisfy their intake requirements, the lack of a WA-based PLT course is still worrying.
“It doesn’t have an immediate affect on us, but it does make the pool of qualified lawyers smaller, which obviously has ramifications in the long-term,” Poulsen told Lawyers Weekly.
“Insofar as the big national firms are concerned, there are sufficient numbers of lawyers within the system that you can offer articles to,” he said. “But there will also be [those] who miss out, and then don’t get the chance to be qualified and to deepen the pool later on.”
Those who do miss out get the bad news at the end of a very stressful articles application process. There is a two-hour window on a day in September when law firms call to offer positions to students under a voluntary scheme coordinated with the Western Australia Law Society.
And according to WA College of Law lecturer Marsha Dale, that process can be soul destroying for many students.
“You get this one day when everybody is standing by the phone panicking and the next day at uni you have these elated students, and these totally shattered students,” she said.
Poulsen agreed that the burden on students can be significant, exacerbated by the fact that “there is no choice here to then do a PLT in WA law”.
Importantly, “people should have the choice of whether or not they choose to do the articles program or PLT,” he said.
As the College of Law website states, its WA branch offers an online, NSW-based PLT course. The College expects direct admission will be available in WA in 2008, and is currently designing its own PLT course to facilitate this. But in order for it to happen, the Legal Practice Act needs to be passed, which Poulsen expects to occur during the next parliamentary session.
Yet Dale said many law students in WA still haven’t gotten the message that PLT is an alternative to articles.
“Over east there is a very small articles system, but a much larger number of students who go to [PLT],” she said. “In WA, that message hasn’t really gotten through yet, because we have had an articles system for years and years.”
Dale acknowledged that although it was a drawback to have to go to NSW to gain admission in WA, students are often very positive about the requirement to travel east.
“I’m surprised that I’ve never had a student complain about having to do it,” she said. “They say ‘wow, that’s a trip to NSW’.”
But the fact the WA law students, who may only ever want to practice law in their home state, are still forced to learn another state’s laws and be admitted in NSW is “crazy” in Poulsen’s eyes.
The overlap of law hasn’t been a problem for Minter Ellison though, because they haven’t recruited many graduates straight out of the PLT course.
“We are actually fishing in the pool direct, and picking the people who we want as article clerks,” he said. “We would take people straight into articles and train them in the way that we want to train them. So it doesn’t affect us in the short term.
“But the greater affect is on the students,” he said.