COVID-19: “Junior lawyers cannot be left in limbo”, says JLD
With the COVID–19 virus having repercussions across all sectors and levels, the Junior Lawyers Division has outlined its concerns in a letter to the SRA.
On Monday 23 March, members of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) sent a letter to Paul Philip, CEO of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), outlining concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak. The letter is in response to measures taken by the SRA in light of the virus spreading globally. Signed by JLD Chair Charlotte Parkinson, the letter also presents possible solutions to the concerns held by the body.
LPC students, trainee solicitors and solicitor apprentices are the three main groups who will see significant disruption to their career paths, with the JLD expressing a particular concern of the “unprecedented impact” on the lives of these groups—which includes everyone from A-level students planning to do an apprenticeship all the way up to trainee solicitors who may face postponement or termination of their training contracts.
LPC students: what is the JLD’s recommendation?
Delaying the LPC exams until autumn 2020 is “unworkable”, says the JLD, and will “have serious implications for those with training contracts due to commence in September 2020”. Such students could face problems such as a lack of study leave to complete exams, postponement of their training contract until after the exam and health implications should social distancing still be in place by autumn 2020. The JLD calls upon the SRA to reconsider its postponement of LPC exams, suggesting “verified and tested” online exam software, as well as coursework and video assessment options for practical assessment.
In other professions, decisions have been made to move exams online or allow students to use predicted grades, such as for final-year medical students, who were allowed to graduate and qualify without sitting their final exams. The JLD argues that for this reason, its solutions are “not ungrounded”.
Trainees and solicitor apprentices: postponement of exams, and how to overcome delays
Trainees have expressed a variety of concerns related to COVID-19, with queries to the JLD ranging from sick leave in a training contact and accessing supervision while working from home to the uncertain job market that awaits NQ lawyers in August/September. Some trainees also raised concerns that their training contracts could be suspended, delayed or terminated.
Students on solicitor apprenticeships—which can take up to seven years under typical circumstances—are also subject to delays and postponement of their education. In its letter, the JLD points out that students who have just had their A-level exams cancelled will no longer be in a position to apply for and start on solicitor apprenticeships, as planned.
On both matters the JLD calls for clarity from the SRA, stating that “guidance on working from home would be of benefit” for those accruing Qualifying Work Experience at home, and updated guidelines on how to conduct supervisions—necessary to qualify as a trainee—remotely.
The bottom line
Ultimately, the JLD calls for definitive guidance on how working and examination practices should be conducted with the unprecedented situation caused by Covid-19. “Junior lawyers cannot be left in limbo with no guidance and support from the regulator,” it says.
The SRA is yet to respond to the letter.