Allan Murray-Jones, chair of the Law Society’s education and training committee, discusses the new Voluntary Code of Recruitment for Trainee Solicitors following its introduction earlier this year.

On 28 July 2015 the Law Society announced that it had replaced the SRA as a signatory to the Voluntary Code of Recruitment for Trainee Solicitors. The code was drawn up to assist all parties involved with the recruitment of law degree students and non-law degree students as trainee solicitors. It is the belief of the Law Society that the code represents good practice in legal recruitment and supports firms and potential trainees in navigating this process fairly and transparently.

Following the adoption of the new code some firms have announced that they are moving their application and offer dates forward. Valid concerns have been raised about the pressure that this may put on students to accept training places early, before they have had the opportunity to seek out other opportunities or consider other offers.

The signatories to the code agreed to dispense with the old 31 July application deadline date as some firms indicated that they had already filled their positions before 31 July, but had to keep their applications open due to the code. It is our hope that now the process is more transparent, with students applying for positions that actually exist, albeit at an earlier date.

The Law Society will, of course, continue to monitor the situation and any issues we see arising will be dealt with where appropriate. Currently, although some firms are bringing their application deadlines forward, the majority are staying at 30 June or 31 July. It will be interesting to see whether those who have moved to a January deadline will continue with this for future years, or whether they revert to the summer deadline to ensure the quality of applications.

The likelihood of university students finding the time to apply for training contracts during the academic year and feeling adequately prepared to apply must be taken into consideration. Many students will most likely prefer to wait until they have been able to complete vacation schemes so as to boost their applications.

Regardless of when offers are made, the deadlines for acceptance must be maintained. It is the responsibility of firms to ensure that students feel comfortable that their offers will remain on the table and not be withdrawn before the deadline. As yet we are not aware of any offers having been made under the new code and it is therefore difficult to say whether students feel pressure to accept those offers before going to other firms.

Certainly I would encourage any student who feels they have been put under such pressure to contact the Law Society or the JLD to share their experiences. The signatories of the code are of course intent on ensuring that the process outlined in the Code is implemented fairly and will have to re-visit the code if it becomes apparent that this is not the case.