The new Signet Accreditation scheme ran by the Writers to HM. Signet Society is launching a scheme to test 'young' solicitors on whether they are "worthy of becoming accredited specialists in their chosen field" - reports the Scotsman.
This is aimed at solicitors with between three and six years post-qualifying experience and it has been designed to address early concerns from firms that it should test solicitors on their skills - not just their ability to study for exams.
Lord Cullen, the former Lord President is the chair of the Board, and is quoted in the Scotsman report as saying "I have been very impressed by the fact that the assessment that takes place is not just concerned with book-learning but is concerned very much with client communication," he says.
Listening to the client ? Whatever next are we going to hear !
The Scotsman reports :
ACTORS are to be hired to play clients in mock interviews to test whether young solicitors are worthy of becoming accredited specialists in their chosen field.
Applications have opened for the new Signet Accreditation scheme, launched by the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet (WS Society) to help recently qualified lawyers to hone their skills.
Candidates seeking the signet seal of approval for commercial litigation or commercial property will be the first to undergo the assessments this November, with further specialty exams due to begin next year.
The mock interviews will be the first part of a two-week assessment process - which will also include a take-home assignment and a written exam - and will test solicitors' interpersonal and communication skills as well as their knowledge of the law.
The scheme now has a board of directors, chaired by Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, the former Lord President. Three practice area committees led by established practitioners have been established to oversee the benchmarks for assessment.
The accreditation scheme is aimed at solicitors with between three and six years post-qualifying experience and it has been designed to address early concerns from firms that it should test solicitors on their skills - not just their ability to study for exams.
Speaking to The Scotsman, Lord Cullen says the importance of client communication would a vital component of the tests. "I have been very impressed by the fact that the assessment that takes place is not just concerned with book-learning but is concerned very much with client communication," he says.
"Has [the solicitor] learnt how to listen to what the client has got to say? Has he learnt to ask the right questions and not impose a solution without listening to what the client has got to say? These are very much everyday things that solicitors are and should be concerned with."
He adds: "An important part of this is conducting an interview with a client. If he literally comes off the street and says, this is my problem, here are the papers, this is my understanding of the situation, please ask me any questions to elaborate, the solicitor who is sitting that assessment has got to give sensible advice at the time.
"It's not a question of searching the books for four weeks. It is about how to react, how to deal with, how to listen to the client."
Solicitors interested in applying for a place on the accreditation scheme will first have to ask themselves whether they feel ready. Robert Pirrie, the WS Society's chief executive, says a few weeks of study will not make up for lack of experience.
"This is not about a process whereby you study for a period of three or four weeks and sit a test, this is about assessing whether you have achieved a particular level of professional development," he says.
"You should look on this assessment as if you were about to be assigned a piece of work by a partner in your firm to do next week - you wouldn't think about going to study. You have to judge, do you think you are ready to take an assessment of your professional development at this stage? This isn't a question of studying intensively for a few weeks and you'll pass - it doesn't work like that."
The key to the future success of the scheme will lie in the benefits that firms see from supporting their recently qualified solicitors to become accredited, adds Pirrie.
"One firm has used the expression 'out-sourced assessment' - that it's useful for them to have some sort of external benchmark against which to assess whatever training and development they have internally.
"Another benefit is to help focus their training and development internally. It is a challenge a lot of firms have, because even when they run programs they can sometimes find last-minute cancellations.
"An assessment like this helps to increase the priority attached to that sort of activity alongside fee-earning. There is also an important lawyer retention point. This is something firms can offer younger lawyers."
Pirrie adds that the scheme - which is intended to complement the Law Society of Scotland's peer-view accreditation of specialists - will help firms show their clients that they are serious about high standards.
Amber Thomson, a partner with Dundas & Wilson, who is chairing the scheme's commercial property practice area committee, says the fact her firm is involved is a measure of its potential to nurture young talent.
"As a firm, we have not gone particularly for accreditation of specialism," she says. "We operate north and south of the Border and we like to make sure we are UK-based rather than just in one area. But we have decided that this is the right thing for the age group that will be involved - the three to six-year post-qualified stage. It follows on from what we do with the diploma and the newly qualified, and this gives us a stepping stone."
Philip Rodney, chairman of Burness, adds he was attracted to chairing the commercial litigation practice area committee to help lawyers at an earlier stage in their careers.
"I was very lucky throughout my career that I had a number of people who acted as guru figures for me," he says. "With the pressures of modern practice, there is less of that. It is good to give back the benefit of the experience you have to the next generation - I see that as part of my responsibility."
• More information about the signet accreditation scheme is available from: http://www.thesignetaccreditation.co.uk