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A Career Bar None

Wednesday 07 July 2004 by Gina Le Prevost

I think now is a particularly exciting time for anyone to be considering a career as an advocate at the Guernsey Bar or wishing to work as a lawyer in Guernsey. Over the past twenty years the size of the Bar has increased from approximately twenty advocates to 100 and rising. A record number of people will be taking the Guernsey Bar examinations this coming summer.

There has also been the phenomenon of the non-locally qualified lawyer working for the firms of advocates on the Island. Non-locally qualified lawyers now outnumber locally qualified advocates. Legal practice in Guernsey has benefited from the input of persons with qualifications from all over the world but particularly Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Why this growth? It is a direct corollary of the amount of work coming into the Island. In the 1960s and 1970s much was heard of "invisible exports". The work brought in to Guernsey by lawyers on the Island must account for a sizeable proportion of Guernsey's economy.

It is an exciting time to practise law in Guernsey; whereas twenty years ago most advocates were generalists turning their hand to many tasks, now it is very much the norm to specialise in a chosen practise area of particular interest to a lawyer. New areas of practise in my own firm, for instance, which has dedicated teams to include employment law, compliance work, data protection, medical negligence, pensions laws, employment benefits - and the areas of specialisation will continue to increase.

Guernsey

Guernsey is a common law jurisdiction; however its laws are a combination of old Norman law and English law. Although the customary law of Normandy forms the historical basis of Guernsey law and is still the basis of the laws concerning inheritance and property, all other areas of law have drawn increasingly on English law over time. As a result Guernsey advocates must not only be proficient in English law but must also have a good understanding of old Norman law.

The Route to Qualification

Unsurprisingly, becoming a Guernsey advocate is a lengthy process. Candidates must first qualify as an English solicitor or barrister before attempting the specific Guernsey requirements. Once qualified, candidates must attend the University of Caen in France for three months and complete the Guernsey Bar examinations.

Qualifying as an English Solicitor or Barrister

The first step in qualifying as an English solicitor or barrister is to complete a degree from a recognised university. While many students choose to undertake a law degree it is possible to convert a non-law degree to a qualifying law degree by taking a post-graduate diploma in law ("PgDL"), also known as a Common Professional Examination. The PgDL comprises the seven core subjects of a law degree: Tort, Contract Law, Public Law, Criminal Law, Equity and Trusts, EC Law and Property Law.

The PgDL can be undertaken in a number of manners: full-time, part-time or by distance learning. The full-time course is over one year, whereas the part-time and distance-learning courses are studied over two years.

Following completion of a law degree or non-law degree and PgDL, candidates must choose whether they wish to be a solicitor or a barrister.

Qualifying as a Solicitor

To become a solicitor, students must undertake a vocational course known as The Legal Practice Course ("LPC"). The LPC is designed to allow students to apply the knowledge and procedures they learned in their law degree/PgDL in practice. The LPC consists of three core subjects and three electives. The compulsory subjects are Business Law in Practice, Litigation & Advocacy and Conveyancing & Property. The choice of electives includes Acquisitions & Group Structures, Commercial Law, Commercial Dispute Resolution, Commercial Property, Corporate Finance, Employment Law & Practice, Family Law & Practice, Media & Entertainment Law, Personal Injury & Clinical Negligence Litigation, Private Client and finally, Welfare Benefit & Immigration Law. The choice of electives allows students to tailor their studies according to the area in which they would like to specialise. Occasionally, where candidates have secured a training contract for when they finish the academic stage (see below) the employer may request the student to take specific electives.

Like the PgDL, the LPC may be taken full-time, part-time or by block learning, the full-time course lasting one year and the part-time and block learning courses lasting two years.

Training Contract

Once candidates have completed the academic stage of training (i.e., the law degree/ PgDL and LPC) they must train as a solicitor for two years within an accredited firm . Until recently it was necessary to train in either England or Wales; however it is now possible to complete this stage in Guernsey. At present, Guernsey law firms offering training contracts include amongst others, Carey Langlois and Wedlake Bell. Many mainland firms recruit trainees two years in advance so it is necessary to apply in the final year of the law degree or during the PgDL. At present, the Guernsey firms tend to be more flexible so it may be possible to secure a training contract after completing the LPC.

During the training contract trainees take a number of "seats", meaning they spend set amounts of time in different departments, allowing them to obtain experience of different areas of law. This can be particularly useful where a trainee is not sure of the area in which they would like to specialise.

The final stage of training as a solicitor is the Professional Skills Course ("PSC") which is pursued during the training contract. The PSC comprises 72 hours (12 days) of training which includes three compulsory core modules and a wide choice of electives. The compulsory core modules are Financial & Business Skills, Advocacy & Communication Skills and Client Care & Professional Skills.

Qualifying as a Barrister

Instead of pursuing the LPC, prospective barristers must undertake a different vocational course known as the Bar Vocational Course ("BVC"). The BVC is designed to prepare students for becoming pupil barristers and there is much emphasis on developing interpersonal skills, casework skills, written skills and a professional attitude.

Like the LPC, the BVC has three core areas which include Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Sentencing and Evidence. There are also a number of electives to choose from. In order to hold rights of audience in the Superior Courts of England and Wales one must first be called to the Bar. It follows that students should join one of the Inns of Court prior to undertaking the BVC, as the Inns alone have power to call a student to the Bar. The Inns of Court are Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray's Inn. The Bar Council recommends that students join an Inn by the end of June in the year in which they will pursue the BVC; however many students choose to join earlier. The Inns are generally non-academic societies designed to provide support to barristers and student barristers. The Inns provide advocacy training seminars and lectures on various areas of law.

Normally, following completion of the BVC and having been called to the Bar, students must then obtain pupillage with a chambers in the UK, where they will train for a year. This is not necessary in order to become a Guernsey advocate and thus many barristers return to Guernsey to undertake the Guernsey Bar examinations following the BVC.

Studying in Caen

Following qualification as an English solicitor or barrister, a prospective Guernsey advocate must attend the University of Caen for three months. Students usually go to Caen in September and finish their exams in mid-December. The courses they will take there are designed to provide an understanding of Norman customary law and French contract law. As the courses are taught in French it is essential to have a good understanding of the language. The courses include Customary Law (Coutûme), Institutions of Normandy (Institutions Normandes), Judicial Thought (Pensée Juridique) and Contract Law (Obligations). The first three courses provide an historical analysis of French law; however the course on contract law focuses on the modern French law of contract.

The Guernsey Bar

In this stage of the training, which may be undertaken prior to or after attending the University of Caen, candidates must write four papers to be called to the Guernsey Bar. They must write papers on the Constitution and Laws of Guernsey, Civil and Criminal Practice and Procedure and the Law of Real Property. Students then have a choice between a paper on the laws and practice relating to private clients or the laws and practice relating to business clients.

Whilst there is no formal training programme prior to writing these papers, candidates must have worked within a Guernsey law firm for a minimum of 1 year under the supervision of an advocate of at least 5 years' standing prior to being called to the Bar. In addition, many law firms in Guernsey provide seminars for students in order to assist them in their studies. Once students have completed these requirements they will be called to the Guernsey Bar and become a Guernsey advocate.

This may all sound a long and arduous road. It is, but as in most things in life the more the preparation the greater the reward.

By Michael Eades, Bâtonnier, Guernsey Bar Council.