By way of background, the November 2018 Peart Commission Report into solicitor education in Ireland set out a vision for the future of solicitor training in Ireland. This report was adopted and endorsed by both the Society’s Education Committee and its Council.
Proposals 21 and 22 of the report mandated the introduction of a new fused PPC that would bring together all of the taught elements of solicitor training into one academic year. This fused PPC will provide significant logistical and practical advantages to trainees and firms.
Director of education TP Kennedy says: “This new course is designed specifically to equip trainee solicitors with extensive future-focused legal knowledge, innovation and technical skills. It is built around our four pillars of professional development – specifically, legal knowledge and analytical thinking, skills, professional responsibility, and psychological development.
Context for change
Law Society President Michelle Ní Longáin is optimistic about the profession’s future, saying that the legal sector is facing into an era of opportunity as it expands into new and emerging areas of practice. It is also incorporating technological innovations to deliver cutting-edge client service.
“This new era has emerged against a backdrop of a profound range of evolving social, political, technological, and environmental factors,” the president said.
“The reimagined, fused PPC is a unique educational offering, providing essential and modern skills to develop the next generation of solicitors capable of innovating and collaborating together to address current and future global legal needs.”
By anticipating and respond-ing to these changes and by combining digital technologies with legal services and business acumen, the new PPC will offer trainees the skills necessary to be the legal and business leaders of the future.
At the heart of the development of the new course has been an ongoing consultation process. Education standards manager Rory O’Boyle advises that, as far back as 2020, a detailed consultation on the new syllabus was issued to law firms.
Based on the themes that emerged in that consultation, the Society hosted focus groups in April 2021 with solicitors from commercial firms, those in in-house practice, bar associations, regional firms, and small practices in order to discuss the syllabus design for the new PPC.
Drawing on the findings of the initial consultations and more nuanced discussions in focus groups, the Society’s Education Committee provided detailed guidance in September 2021 on the syllabus content for the new fused PPC.
The aim of the new PPC is to enable trainees to acquire and develop the knowledge and skills to become successful solicitors. The syllabus covers the following core courses, each of which will run over two semesters:
- Skills – including a continued focus on negotiations, research, drafting, advocacy, interviewing, advising, and presentation skills; together with an enhanced focus on more general skills, such as leadership, project management, office and legal technology, and finance skills,
- Professional responsibility – including enhanced coverage of legal ethics, solicitors’ accounts, rules of professional conduct, and law-firm life,
- Business law,
- Dispute resolution, and
- Land law.
In addition, the following one-semester courses are also included in the core curriculum:
- Probate – wills and administration of estates,
- Family law,
- Psychology of a lawyer, and
- Legal Practice Irish.
Trainees will have the opportunity to complete four or more advanced electives as part of their overall training. A programme of advanced electives will be provided by the Law Society, with others co-provided, and some being external advanced electives, accredited by the Society.
The advanced electives will run after the completion of the core curriculum, namely between May and June (the full list of potential Law Society advanced electives is set out in the table below).
The criteria for approval of advanced electives will be the same, regardless of whether the provider is internal to the Law Society or external. A standardised criteria and approval process is important to ensure consistency of standards across all elements of training.
This will also ensure an enhanced experience for all of our trainees, regardless of where and with whom they choose to complete the advanced elective component of their training.
The criteria and approval process for all advanced electives on the new fused PPC was approved by the Education Committee in March 2022 and published to law firms later that month.
Committee chair Richard Hammond SC says: “While the new fused PPC honours our deeply-held commitment to the ‘generalist’ approach to solicitor training, the advanced elective stage will provide significant and meaningful pathways for trainees to explore those aspects of practice of most interest to them.”
Teaching and assessment
Course manager Dr Gabriel Brennan advises that, to address current and future skills requirements of the legal sector, the new PPC will focus on the employability of trainee solicitors.
They will be instructed in a variety of useful skills, including project management, leadership, enterprise, risk management, collaborative problem-solving, change management and innovation.
The Law School’s Dr Geoffrey Shannon SC says: “As we embark on the new course, it is an excellent opportunity to review our general approach to examinations and assessments.”
To facilitate this review, he has led a wide-ranging analysis with examiners and external experts, such as Prof Paul Maharg, to ensure an exam system that mirrors the innovations introduced on the PPC course.
The assessment strategy for the new course will encompass more traditional open-book written examinations, which is accepted as the most appropriate assessment method for core knowledge-based subjects at professional practice stage, as well as more innovative assessment strategies for use in the skills and advanced-electives components of the training.
Pathway to qualification
For the new fused PPC, the in-office training period begins 14 days after the last exam on the core curriculum. Therefore, for the new fused PPC, in-office training will start in May 2023. The requirement for 24 months of in-office training runs from that date, pointing to a potential qualification date of May 2025.
Eligible trainees, however, may also be able to claim in-office credit of up to four months for training occurring prior to the start of their PPC, resulting in a potential qualification date of approximately January 2025.
Work is also at an advanced stage to reformat the PPC Hybrid to take account of the structure of the new full-time fused PPC.
A ‘fused PPC Hybrid’ will be offered from January 2023 onwards, and will be delivered over a full calendar year. It will be delivered on a similar blended-learning basis as the existing PPC Hybrid model – classes will take place primarily at weekends, allowing trainees to continue working during the course.
Trainees will also be potentially eligible to attain an in-office training credit of up to five months for time spent in the office during the new fused PPC Hybrid. (Such credit would be in addition to any credit the trainee might also be entitled to claim for training occurring prior to the commencement of the PPC.)
Future strategic opportunities
TP Kennedy advises that, as a teaching faculty, the Law Society’s Education Centre will continue to explore the profession’s future training needs by providing world-class training.
In that context, it is worth noting that proposal 22 of the Peart Commission Report requires that the Education Centre keep the Professional Practice Course under constant observation. With this in mind, the PPC will be subject to a biennial review.
Richard Hammond SC says: “A critical strategic challenge over the next 12 months will be working with potential external partners – including law firms and other institutions – to deliver a suite of advanced electives that will give full expression to the aims of proposal 22. This is a new departure for us and one that we warmly welcome.
“We look forward to rising to this set of challenges as we continue to fulfil the change mandate set out by the Peart Commission Report. That change mandate is primarily focused on enriching the educational experience and, by extension, the profession’s wealth of knowledge, of which the PPC is the core foundational element.
“Our primary focus is to enhance the educational offering we provide to our trainees and the profession and, by extension, the society we serve.”
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