Sunday, 2 October 2011

Revolution beckons…

['Acculaw' is now called 'Accutrainee']

The Legal Services Act was the last great game-changer of the legal world. Press went into overdrive; law firms - stirred, panicked - clambered on to this new track to greatness, ran for the hills; students boned-up any which way they could – what? how? when? where? A biblical shift in the way law is done in the UK wasn’t going to trip us up at interview. And yet the Legal Services Act, still barely in effect, is soon to find itself consigned to the side story of an ever-suspect plotline.

In a recent podcast I did with The Guardian’s Alex Aldridge and Bircham Dyson Bell’s Kevin Poulter we endeavoured, perhaps in vain, to find the best route to a training contract. During the conversation we discussed, fleetingly, the latest innovation in the industry- Acculaw. But what is Acculaw and why is that name on the tip of every tongue?  

Founded by ex-Hogan Lovells lawyer Susan Cooper Acculaw was created to address the cost, inflexibility and inefficiency of traditional trainee recruitment. Acculaw’s trainees, recruited straight from the LPC, are seconded out to up to three firms for a minimum 3 months, maximum 6 months per firm. The private recruitment company pays its trainees around £20,000 p/a [this would, looking at the bigger picture, equate to a pay cut]. The training model overcomes both the £175,000 odd [says Acculaw] it costs firms to take each trainee on - GDL and LPC fees, maintenance grants, salary, training courses - and the two year time lag between the job offer and the start-date. Since the SRA gave the new training model the greenlight it’s become the buzz about town and it does have its fans - “[Acculaw is] an innovative approach to solving the challenges law firms face in recruiting appropriate numbers of trainees and managing their cost“ gushes former Linklaters head honcho Tony Angel. With such acclaim radiating from the lofty echelons of the legal world it’s easy to anticipate a rapid ascent for Acculaw. But what does this mean in real terms for us inbetweeners?  

For any inbetweener a gift is the idea that a training contract is once again attainable. But a common criticism levelled against Acculaw’s training model is the disrupted, intermittent style training it offers its employees, with the bulk of the criticism squaring on the expected quality of the lawyers it will produce. Indeed, there is little incentive for a firm to invest as much time and resources in a ‘drive-by’ trainee as in those it seeks to retain on a permanent basis [i.e. the traditional route trainees]. So might the Acculaw route make finding a qualified job harder for us? Is it a one rung ladder with nowhere to go beyond that?  

Of course, questions of this kind are only relevant while the two routes to qualification [traditional, and Acculaw] exist side by side. A good question here might be whether or not firms will plump solely for Acculaw or use it in conjunction with their own recruitment process. Top media/tech firm Olswang, champing at the bit, became the first firm to sign up and will in 2013 use Acculaw as its only mode for recruitment. How many will follow suit? At the very least, the Acculaw model could have firm bosses questioning the way their training is done. Great expense is made to guarantee the top candidates get [and keep] the top jobs; partners see the value in cultivating lawyers of their own. But as reality hits hard, the traditional, 'romantic' route to qualification could be subject to an industry-wide rethinking. Surely Acculaw wouldn't exist if there wasn't already this niggling feeling. 

To guarantee its position in the market and to ensure it lives out its dream to create “win-win scenarios for all industry stakeholders”, Acculaw will have to address a number of issues. Acculaw doesn’t pay LPC or GDL fees, nor does it guarantee newly qualified positions; it need only take a couple of years for the company to develop a reputation as a closed shop or as a meat grinder, churning up and spitting out cash-strapped, hungry wannabe lawyers. The company is eager to announce its ability to “evaluate potential candidates based on their skills, attitude and determination.” However, if in ten, maybe as little as five years’ time Acculaw finds itself at the forefront of legal recruitment it will be impelled to respond to the oft-debated 'access to industry' matter; as firms turn to Acculaw, they concurrently hand over this duty. How is Acculaw going to widen participation and promote under-represented groups? Perhaps, other than being a forward-looking company keen to find its feet, as a tangible, accountable entity solely responsible for legal recruitment, as opposed to an intangible, centuries-old culture, Acculaw will hasten the drive for diversity; lord knows the traditional ‘model’ has been decidedly slow to quell such criticism.  

The company is clearly proud of its “ground-breaking new model” and, as it stands, there are certainly positives to being an Acculaw trainee - exposure to different types of law in varying environments, plus the opportunity to show off your talents in more than one firm [thus broadening your chances of impressing]. But Acculaw may have to continue breaking ground if it is to curry favour with both sides of the recruitment game; student and firm. Maybe Acculaw is a temporary solution to a temporary problem; a snap response to an economic lull. Will it last? And there are those who say there is a predatory smell about it all, the prey those desparate to extricate themselves from the inbetweener life. But for me this just isn't true. It was my choice to do law. No one forced me to choose this path. 

Alas! I am once again faced with a choice; to apply for Acculaw or not. So, acculaw.com, was it? 

4 comments:

  1. Nice piece. Interesting point about 'tangible' entity. you might be on to something there.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Compelling forecasting! I'm less optimistic about this acculaw biz though. The end goal is not a training contract. its to qualify and hopefully have a career as a decent lawyr. Acculaw will not see you through. They ARE preying on desperation and ARE predatory. I feel a little sorry for any trainee employed by acculaw. its a dead end. Your points are well made but unrealistic. Stick it through. don't fall for acculaw. acculaw a temporary solution? lets hope its exactly that- temporary.

    ReplyDelete
  3. increase diversity? Pish. Slashing trainee salaries to 1/2 is utter bollox. Poorer people/ BMEs don't stand a chance. Accutrainee or whatever the eff it's called nowadays is another tool for the industry to keep on exploiting. Rubbish. And i'd advise against anyone every making an application to these vultures. And the woman who runs it seems steely cold. Need less of those types. More heart. But who the hell am I kidding.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Looks like this one job is very interesting. I love to preserve the environment and I hope I can be able to help some environmental laws.

    ReplyDelete