Monday, 23 May 2011

PSC: Necessary Skills or complete waste of time?

It has come to that point in my legal training where the SRA get involved. All trainees have to complete the Professional Skills Course or PSC as a prerequisite for qualification. Most do this, or at least start, in their first year. The PSC involves core modules of Client Care, Advocacy and Finance, followed by 4 days of chosen electives. I am 2 weeks away from the end of my core modules and I have to say I have not been overly impressed.

While the days out of the office have been fun, as has the free food and meeting other first year trainees, the content of the courses has thus far been useless. The PSC is supposed to provide us with the skills the SRA think are necessary for solicitors; a supplement to the Legal Practice Course to take our skill base from trainee to NQ. I really hope I need a bit more than what I have learnt so far.

I spent 2 days learning about client care. I say learning, in reality we spent the whole of the second day teaching ourselves. The SRA require an element of computer use to be delivered somewhere in the cores. Our provider decided possibly the only thing we might come across is PowerPoint. I can see the sense in that - most lawyers have to give presentations at some point. However, having had to graduate from the LPC in the last 5 years, we will have had to give presentations on multiple occasions by this stage and should be shot if we haven't got the PowerPoint basics down by now. So, no we didn't need the 2 hour PowerPoint tutorial, nor the 3 hours to prepare our presentations on a client care subject. The module was really us learning the material and delivering it to our peers. The most instruction we received from the tutors was a 3 hour revision of the Code of Conduct covering it in less detail than on the LPC. What a waste of time.

My next course was Advocacy, 3 days. First day, Examination in chief (80's video of fake trial over 2 hours), Second day, Cross Examination, Third day, preparation for and running through a fake trial. What fun! (I won my case. Well my team did.Of course that was down to my grueling cross examination). However the relevance to trainee solicitors and NQs of this experience is limited. Civil cases rarely have an examination in chief these days and counsel would be instructed to do any lengthy cross examination. Only really in family, criminal or tribunals is a solicitor likely to examine witnesses and then the rules are different. So we spent 3 days learning skills we are unlikely to ever use. Perhaps it would have been more relevant to teach us court etiquette or to give us practice making opposed applications. By the time we are experienced enough to conduct a trial as they suggested on this module the PSC is going to be a distant memory.

Last of all is Finance. Arguably the most useful (it covers the dreaded Financial Services and Markets Act, and Money Laundering, the stuff lawyers hate but can get them in ALOT of trouble if they get it wrong), I can only comment on the first day of 3. Having covered FSMA regulation on the LPC I know that unless authorised by the FSA, solicitors cannot give investment advice unless covered by an exception that it is incidental to the work. Most lawyers struggle with this distinction, so I am happy to be getting another chance to learnt it. I am a little concerned about the delivery of this module. Our first day involved spending 7 hours learning about different kinds of investments. You know, the ones we cant give advice about?  Apparently if we know more about what it is we are not supposed to say, we won't do it. I can't see that logic. I now know and understand far more about investments than I ever have done making it much easier for me to slip across the line into regulated territory. At least before I could claim ignorance and avoid the situation all together. Worst of all, these 7 hours were delivered a full week before our FSMA session. So I have been a week in the world with the practical knowledge of what I am not allowed to say without actually knowing where the line is. Genius!

Normally days spent out the office would be great fun. In reality I haven't had a full week in the office since mid April. My work load is piling up, my hours are behind and I am pretty sure someone has been using my desk while I'm gone..... My firm is paying me and the PSC provider to waste time learning stuff I either already know, will never use or make me more likely to break the law! I think the SRA needs to rethink what it is teaching trainees and use this time to bring up lawyering standards instead of wasting resources. I have heard from others that the quality of the electives is much higher, I do hope so.

 I can't say it was a complete waste of time though - I did get a great tan 'preparing' for my client care presentation........


  1. Great post. I'm sure you're right. The PSC (from what you say) simply hasn't kept up with the reality of life for lawyers. I'd spend the whole thing on Finance. And not "types of investment". Things like how to read a P&L, a balance sheet and a business plan would be useful.

  2. Glad to hear it; I always think clients prefer to see their solicitor sporting a sun-tan! ;-)

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