When you begin your training contract you may not have even heard of the PSC, or it may just be another in the long list of acronyms that you hear being mentioned around the classroom or workplace.
The Professional Skills Course, more commonly known as the PSC, is one of the last steps to qualifying as a solicitor. Every trainee undertaking a training contract will need to complete the PSC before they are able to qualify.
The course can be taken at any point during the two years of the training contract, however many people advise that your first seat be kept free of the additional burden so you are not overwhelmed at the very beginning. It will be up to you to arrange the course, so bear in mind that many of the modules are first come first served, so do not put it off for too long.
The PSC is broken down into a three compulsory modules and a mixture of electives. The mandatory modules are:
1. Client care and professional standards
You may be familiar with many of the topics covered in this module if you have worked in a law firm for any period of time. This module will cover topics such professional ethics, regulations/potential sanctions and working effectively with others. There is no formal examination for this module; it is assessed on attendance and participation. Even though there is no exam and the topics may be familiar, it is still important to pay attention to the content. There is always room to improve with client care.
2. Advocacy and communication
This module builds upon skills that you will have likely learnt whilst studying. It is designed to develop your persuasive presentation, help you prepare logical arguments and formulate a factual analysis. When I did the course, the examination was structured as two mock trials with each person being allocated a couple of different roles. While that might sound daunting, you do not have to be a great actor and it was actually a fun experience. The way to get the most out of the module (and to ensure you pass) is to dive in and know your role/character as best as you can. The instructor (who played the judge in both trials) pre-warned us that they would ask tricky, fact specific questions to ensure we did our reading.
3. Financial and business skills
In this module you look at the financial advice that you can and cannot give to your client, and the criminal sanctions that might arise from providing regulated financial advice. It is also aimed to give you a better overview of the financial services industry in general, money laundering regulations and the various investments which you may encounter. Unlike the other two modules, this has a written exam. The exam is open book, but there is a lot of information to digest and due to the time constraints, you can’t sit flicking through for too long. If you have taken an open book exam before, you will know that effective tabbing will be extremely useful.
You must complete 24 hours of elective subjects. The courses available can vary depending on what institution you take the course with. However there are usually topics which fit well with the different seats. For example if you are interested in criminal law, there will likely be a module about how to conduct a trial in the Magistrates’ Court, or if you want to improve your commercial contract drafting skills there will be a module for that too. There are also modules available for you to work on your soft skills such as managing time and stress, or how to develop your networking skills.
It is important to take care in picking your choice of electives as they may play a key role in what you specialise in further down the road.
At this stage it is likely that you know which areas of law you are genuinely interested in. It is always good to choose a topic you enjoy as you will be more enthusiastic about your learning and you will have a greater chance of success.
If you are genuinely interested in an area of law, more likely than not it will be the field in which you would like to practice. Clearly it is sensible to pick electives which will be useful to your desired career path. Electives which are complementary to your career will provide you with the necessary skills for progression.
It is good to bear in mind what skills your firm will be looking for in a newly qualified solicitor. A firm that doesn’t do contentious work may not find it particularly useful if you decide to gain your higher rights of audience.
If you are still in doubt, talk with your mentor or training supervisor and identify any professional development skills that it would be good for you to work on; for example if you are an introverted person, think about taking a module in presenting with confidence (or something similar).