Anyone who wants to become a solicitor in the Netherlands is obliged to follow the three-year vocational training for solicitors (Beroepsopleiding voor de Advocatuur) after graduating from university. During this vocational training, one is referred to as a trainee lawyer and has to successfully complete several courses. Up until recently when the vocational training was entirely revamped, this three-year vocational training was sometimes frowned upon with a certain amount of disdain. It was regarded as much too easy, and perhaps not entirely without reason.
With the revamped vocational training, the Dutch Bar Association has taken a whole new road. And although in my opinion it is in itself a good thing that the vocational training has been the subject of revision, I believe that the revamped vocational training might be somewhat overdone. In my opinion, the three-year traineeship has in fact become too challenging; too much is demanded of aspiring solicitors. I am under the impression that the vocational training in its current form basically amounts to a reiteration of the same university programme from which the trainee lawyer has already successfully graduated.
Moreover, a three strikes and you’re out-principle now applies. If one flunks a certain course more than two times, one is thenceforth disbarred meaning a career as a solicitor is no longer an option. Speaking from my own professional experience with the training and education of trainee lawyers in preparation for their bar exams, I think there is another, regrettable side of this story that is currently under-exposed. As it turns out, quite a lot of trainee lawyers have considerable difficulty in keeping up with the fast pace and the high intensity of the vocational training, especially in combination with their daily doings at their law firms. In some cases, their supervisors or the senior associates and partners in their law firm still look at the vocational training from their own past experience as easily done, thus laying high pressure upon them to succeed for their bar exams in order to avoid losing credit. On top of that, the daily doings in the trainee’s law practice are often quite time-consuming, leaving little time to study for the bar exams.
Add to this the fact that trainee lawyers, just as much as other young professionals, need to sleep and relax from time to time, and it gradually becomes evident that the pressure that the vocational training in its current form lays upon trainee lawyers is in fact too high. Even if the vocational training, as it is currently provided, was fully developed and no longer in its infancy (see, for example, the imperfections in the civil law exam last November, the “Major Burgerlijk Recht”), the pressure would still be somewhat disproportionate. Even in that situation, I would still think it a good idea to reconsider the requirements that are demanded of the trainee lawyers participating in the vocational training for solicitors, and particularly the three strikes and you’re out-principle. But especially in the situation as it actually exists, I believe it is absolutely necessary to find a different mode of ensuring the high quality of vocational training for solicitors.