This article looks at the effect of the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“CJRS”) on the completion of a trainee solicitor’s training contract/period in England.
If a trainee is placed on furlough under the CJRS, should a training contract/period be extended?
The Training Contract/Period
For any readers not familiar with it, the work a trainee does during their training contract/period is based within the framework set out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”): https://www.sra.org.uk/trainees/period-recognised-training/managing-trainees/practice-skills-standards/
Each trainee has a training principal and at the end of the training period the training principal must sign a declaration form for the SRA stating that the trainee has:
- completed their training contract/period of recognised training;
- gained experience and is competent to meet the Practice Skills Standards;
- obtained a full and complete record of training; and
- completed the Professional Skills Course to a satisfactory level.
When it comes to furlough, the SRA are advising that there be an individual assessment of the trainee’s competency levels. We may perhaps look at it in the same way we would a period of sickness or other type of agreed absence, where in such circumstances the training principal may apply an extension to the training period if they consider the trainee is unable to meet the requirements of the Practice Skills Standards. The duration of such an extension is at the training principal’s discretion.
A trainee solicitor may be keen to qualify as soon as possible (I know I was) but what cannot be overlooked is the impossibility of being able to develop practice skills during furlough. During furlough, a trainee will not be completing work and tasks alone, assisting others, and observing experienced practitioners – all crucial methods of developing the skills needed to achieve the required solicitor competency levels. It is therefore highly likely that a training period will need to be extended if a trainee is placed on furlough, particularly for any significant length of time.
The Law Society of Scotland
A more specific approach to the issue is being taken in Scotland. The Law Society of Scotland has specifically drawn a distinction between a period of over 6-months and less than 6-months of being on furlough. If over 6 months, the training period must be extended. The Law Society guides that as a minimum, the extension would be by the number of days beyond six months that the trainee has missed of their traineeship. If under 6 months, then it is an individual assessment of whether or not the standards of a qualified solicitor may be met based on the training period carried out so far.
In summary, if a trainee has been furloughed there is no automatic extension of a training period.
The Law Society of Scotland has set out guidance that makes a distinction between a more or less than 6 month period of furlough, which requires that an extension must be made if a trainee is on furlough for 6 months or more.
The ultimate question is whether the training principal is able to declare by the end of the agreed training period whether the trainee has reached the required solicitor competency levels as prescribed by the SRA. It is more than likely that there should be an extension if furlough has been for a significant period of time.