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*The COVID-19 situation is changing quickly. Often from hour to hour! We’ll do our best to keep this page as up-to-date as we can. But it’s always worth double checking the latest updates.

The House of Commons Justice Select Committee has published their report on the COVID-19 impact. The report entitled, Report: Coronavirus (Covid-19): The impact on courts (HC519) examines the impact of the coronavirus on courts and tribunals in England and Wales. This report forms part of a wider inquiry into the impact of the virus on the prison, probation and courts system.

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UCAS

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: ‘Flexibility within the admission process will be enhanced and extended to deal with the coronavirus outbreak and the announcement that there will be no exams this year. We are confident that our team and systems are ready to adapt throughout the spring and summer.

‘We will continue to work closely with colleagues across the education sector including Ofqual, the Department for Education, the Scottish Government, Office for Students and Universities UK.

The organisation explained that once changes are confirmed, students will be emailed, so it’s important to make sure your email address is updated in Track.

GDL/LLB

Many universities have confirmed that GDL/LLB exams will be conducted online instead of on campus. Please check the individual universities’ websites for the most up-to-date, accurate information.

The University of Cambridge has announced it will move all “face-to-face lectures” online until Summer 2021 however that some smaller teaching groups may be able to take place in person if they can conform to “social distancing requirements”

The University of Manchester has announced the cancellation of face-to-face classes for the upcoming autumn term.

Bar Training/BCAT

The BSB has announced that its assessments, which were postponed from April to August 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are to be sat exams remotely.

The BSB has also confirmed that anyone due to complete their BPTC or BTT who has been offered a pupillage will be able to move forward with the beginning of their placement whilst waiting for results to be published in November as long as the pupillage provider thinks this is permissible. For more information, read this update.

Those embarking on bar training can take the BCAT online with Pearson VUE.

The Bar Standards Board have published specific guidance for students set to sit their centralised BPTC and BTT exams in August. The guidance highlights that students will either sit their exams remotely via Pearson VUE’s online proctoring solution or in a physical test centre. The guide gives details as to how each will work, and the preparation needed for each. The guidance also highlights that the BSB knows that these solutions will not work for all students and that individual discussions will be had with the smaller number of students who have specific needs.

Test centre bookings will be widely available but priority will be given to those who have a specific need to take their exams in a test centre.

The BSB have highlighted that booking for remote proctoring has already opened and that bookings for test centres are due to open later. The board have also made clear that all reasonable adjustments will be considered as no student should be asked to waive an adjustment that is reasonable.

It has been reported by the Law Society Gazette that following attempts to sit a Professional Ethics exam riddled with technical errors, the Bar Standards Boards have been flooded with complaints. Several candidates complained being interrupted by remote proctors, losing allotted time by being locked out of their exam and crashing software.

The Bar Standards Board have issued a statement following the complaints stating that, “inevitably, with any online testing platform, students may face technical issues that prevent them from accessing or completing their exams. These issues include disrupted power supply, (…)hardware or software issues with the student’s computer…unfortunately, these types of issues are beyond our control.” They go on to reassure students that Pearson Vue, the delivery platform used to carry out the remote examinations has highlighted that 89% of examinations were delivered with no reported incidents and 97% of exams had been completed successfully.

The BSB state that for those who did experience a technical failure, options are being considered for them to sit their exams before December.

Response to BPTC and BTT Examination problems

In a press release from 11 September 2020, the Director General of the Bar Standards Board (Mark Neale) has apologised to those who struggled with technical difficulties during their August BPTC exams. He goes on to announce that course providers will be offering new opportunities to resit the BPTC and BTT assessments in Professional Ethics and Civil and Criminal Litigation in the usual in-person format starting at the beginning of October.

The dates of the assessments are as followed:

  • Professional Ethics – Monday 5th October 2020 from 2pm to 4.30pm
  • Civil Litigation – Wednesday 7th October 2020 from 2pm to 5pm
  • Criminal Litigation – Monday 12th October 2020 from 2pm to 5pm

These October resits are open to those who experienced technical difficulties, interrupted access or those who felt their ability to perform well in their August exams was adversely affected by the conditions in which they had to sit them as well as to any student who had deferred until December 2020.

Any students wishing to take advantage of these new opportunities should contact their BPTC course provider for further details. The deadline to register for the October resits is 5pm on Monday 21 September 2020.

The announcement goes on to reassure anyone who has secured pupillage that a waiver has been issued to allow these pupils to “begin their non-practising period of pupillage before receiving their exam results.”

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Law Firm Re-openings

A variety of law firms have begun a phased reopening of their London HQ offices. Allen & Overy have entered their first phase of reopening, with a spokesperson telling Legal Cheek that being allowed into the office is on a “permission-only basis.” The Global Legal Post also reported that Linklaters had reopened its London HQ to allow for the minority finding it difficult to work remotely to return to office.

  • Herbert Smith Freehills: Various news outlets have reported that Herbert Smith Freehills are offering compensation to incoming trainees that will have to have their training contract start dates deferred until a later date. The training contracts which were due to start in September 2020 have now been pushed until April 2021. The Lawyer has reported that 8 out of 28 future trainees will have their start dates deferred for 6 months, with the firm paying them £8,000 to do so.
  • Dentons: Various legal news outlets have reported that Dentons are closing both their Watford and Aberdeen offices in a more general move towards its employees working remotely. Those employees in these offices who are working from home will continue to do so whilst it has also been reported by Dentons that they will also be given access to the nearby Edinburgh and Milton Keynes offices if required. Lawyer Monthly reports that Lisa Sewell, the managing director for UK, Ireland and Middle East for Dentons has praised the firms working from home arrangements as using “less paper” and creating greater “confidence in new technology” as well as being just as productive.
  • Various news outlets have reported that Magic Circle giant Linklaters are implementing a longer term remote-working policy to allow some of their employees to work from home for between 20 and 50% of the time. “Roll on Friday” also reported that Linklaters have announced they will consider other arrangements including flexible scheduling and modified core hours.  The policy will depend on advance communication within teams. This kind of change will not be exclusive to Linklaters as reports have shown that other firms such as Squire Patton Boggs and Herbert Smith Freehills have also been reviewing their flexible-working policies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is thought that many other firms will follow suit.

Training Contracts

Irwin Mitchell and DWF have announced it is delaying the start date of its September 2020 training contracts until February 2021.

The SRA is accepting applications from Professional Skills Course providers to temporarily move their teaching and assessment online or to remote proctoring of assessment.

However, as some students had concerns that this still would not fit in with their timeline of admission due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the SRA will now allow students to apply to defer completion of the PSC for admission as a solicitor. Students will need to ensure they successfully complete the course within 12 months of being admitted.

Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe have postponed their training contract assessments until early 2021 in light of COVID-19.

DLA Piper has offered future trainees up to £10,000 to voluntarily push their start dates. Other firms reported to be paying trainees to voluntarily defer include Baker McKenzie and Penningtons Manches Cooper.

Watson Farley & Williams have reportedly told Training Contract applicants that it had chosen to pause recruitment for training contract only applications pending review of its ability to run effective assessment centres. This does not affect those who applied via their vacation scheme route as this was completed prior to lockdown.

Professional Skills Courses

Providers of the course are making amendments to put their courses online ensuring trainees can finish their qualifications on time.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority said: “Certain parts of the compulsory core subjects for the PSC require face to face assessment. We appreciate that it will be challenging to meet these requirements during the outbreak. We have therefore decided to consider applications for online or remote proctoring of assessments for the PSC, or assessment of oral skills by video-link”

PSC providers must apply for approval before making the changes and the changes will be assessed on a provider by provider basis. Approval may also be reviewed by the SRA at any stage.

Law School News

The University of Law plans to reopen all of its UK campuses this month. Safety measures in place due to Covid-19 include temperature checks on arrival, sanitiser stations outside classrooms, anti-bacterial products available at touch points and clear social distancing with markers for a one-way system.

Students beginning their courses with ULaw in the Autumn have been given the option, under the university’s new Study Guarantee, to study face-to-face, online only or take a blended approach.

BPP Law School also has plans to reopen some of their university study centres to facilitate personal study and library use. Despite this, their teaching is still being delivered online with plans to review this on an ongoing basis.

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