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PPC Hybrid
Niall Gallagher (trainee, Sweeney McHugh Solicitors), Megan Clarke (trainee, McGinley Solicitors), Brendan Twomey (chair, Law Society Curriculum Development Unit), Rory O’Boyle (PPC Hybrid course manager), Jason Laverty (trainee, Browne and Co, Solicitors, LLP) and Niamh Grant (trainee, VP McMullins)

16 Nov 2021 / Education Print

Back home to Donegal

The innovative PPC Hybrid is proving particularly important for those who are most geographically distant from Blackhall Place. The Gazette talks to four Donegal trainees who started the course in December 2020.

The Law Society’s PPC Hybrid uses a ‘blended-learning’ approach that involves a combination of online recorded lectures, ‘live’ online tutorials and skills workshops, as well as on-site, face-to-face tuition. Importantly, this means that trainees can continue working through the delivery of the course – and they don’t have to relocate to Dublin for extended periods.

Choosing the hybrid option was “a no-brainer” for Jason Laverty (trainee with Browne and Co, Letterkenny): “The option suited me to the ground, as I didn’t want to travel to Dublin and spend an extended period of time away from home or work.”

For Megan Clarke (trainee with McGinley Solicitors in Letterkenny), a similar reasoning applied: “I can remain in Donegal and travel to Blackhall Place one weekend a month, eliminating the need to seek accommodation for the duration of my PPC1.

"This was always a worry for me, even when I was sitting my FE1 exams, and I couldn’t believe it when the Law Society introduced PPC Hybrid.”

Course manager Rory O’Boyle (also a Donegal native) says that it was exactly for such trainees that the hybrid course was devised. In doing so, the Society remains fully committed to fostering the hybrid trainees’ full sense of connection with, and belonging to, the Law School, the Society, and the wider profession.

Virtuous circle

It’s not just the convenience of not having to relocate to Dublin that resonates with the Donegal trainees – they also identify a real learning opportunity from studying and working at the same time.

For example, Niall Gallagher (a trainee with Sweeney McHugh Solicitors in Dungloe) highlights that the hybrid “provides an unparalleled experience, in that the skills learned through online lectures can be applied daily in a practical setting, allowing me to further develop my legal knowledge at a much quicker rate than, otherwise, would have been possible.

Undoubtedly, the opportunity to learn and apply both the practical and academic skills while working alongside colleagues in the office was the biggest factor in me choosing the PPC Hybrid course”.

Niamh Grant (trainee with VP McMullins, Letterkenny) agrees: “I enjoy the hands-on approach to learning, and felt I would benefit from training in an office while completing the PPC.”

Similarly, Megan Clarke says: “I find it fantastic that I can apply the knowledge I obtain from the PPC Hybrid directly to my work. On a number of occasions, I have actually come away from online weekend lectures to face scenarios in the office the following week that required me to apply the knowledge gained to files. It makes the whole learning process more realistic.”

Diversity and inclusion

The chair of the Society’s Curriculum Development Unit, Brendan Twomey (whose practice is also based in Donegal) states that, when introducing the PPC Hybrid, one of the main aims was to devise a programme structure that would contribute to the Society’s priority of improving the diversity of its pool of trainees and, ultimately, the diversity of the profession more generally – and that it is hugely gratifying to see that the programme is achieving those aims.

The type of trainees identified as being likely to benefit from this more flexible route of entry into the profession include mature students, parents, carers, and those from non-traditional educational and socio-economic backgrounds. The first two intakes onto the PPC Hybrid have seen 100 trainees join the programme.

Almost half of the traineeships are located outside the Dublin area. Taken together with the Society’s newly introduced Small Practice Traineeship Grant, this marks a significant and welcome shift away from a potentially overly Dublin-centric system of training.

Apart from geographical flexibility, other statistics indicate how the hybrid course has contributed to the diversity of the pool of trainees. For example, over half of PPC Hybrid trainees are over the age of 30, and more than 70% are female.

Another very welcome development has been that PPC Hybrid trainees come from a much more diverse educational background, with, for example, only 13% of hybrid trainees having attained their undergraduate degree in UCD or Trinity. This diversity is also seen in the Donegal trainees, with two of the four students getting their degree at Letterkenny Institute of Technology.

Jason Laverty says: “I studied a three-year LLB locally in Letterkenny IT, during which I worked in Lifford. I come from a family of seven siblings, and my parents are from large families (11 and 12 siblings) – none of whom had a background in law.”

The future

Reflecting on these developments, Rory O’Boyle states that, in his day, pursuing a career in law meant – initially, at any rate – leaving somewhere like Donegal for an urban setting.

However, not anymore, as shown by these trainees who can study at undergraduate level, find their traineeship, and complete their PPC while staying firmly rooted to where they are from. Indeed, the four Donegal trainees who joined the PPC Hybrid in December 2020 all expressed a desire to remain in the county, post-qualification.

This, of course, is not a story unique to Donegal. Hybrid trainees have training firms in counties that were previously, perhaps, underrepresented, including Cavan, Kerry, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo, to name but a few.

The ongoing challenge will be to ensure that trainees can study, train, and qualify into their local communities, ensuring the vibrancy of the profession in every corner of the country.

Read and print a PDF of this article here.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland