Profession rounds on SRA over ‘super-exam’ plan

Topics: Regulation and compliance,Legal Education

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority has received an avalanche of criticism over its plan to introduce a central ‘super-exam’ to be taken by all would-be solicitors.

The regulator said it has received 250 responses to a consultation on the scheme, which closed last Friday. This is almost double the number of responses it received on its consultation on the trainee minimum salary in 2012.

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Crispin Passmore (pictured), executive director of policy at the SRA, said that 200 of the responses raised minor or serious concerns about the proposals, while the other 50 were ‘mixed’.

He said: ‘I would be amazed if it doesn’t change our mind on some stuff […] We have engaged massively on this, there are a lot of people with a big stake in the current system.’

In a sign of the widespread nature of objections, the Legal Services Consumer Panel weighed into the debate this week, warning that the proposals could increase costs for clients. 

When the SRA first proposed the idea of a centralised Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) last December, it said the measure would open up more flexible routes into the profession.

But the panel said that it does not believe the proposed exam enables such flexibility.

It said: ‘Although the SRA suggests the introduction of the SQE would remove the need for candidates to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC), in practice this is dictated by firms’ entry requirement for training contracts. […] It is likely that firms may well favour the status quo.’

This in turn might raise the costs of qualification, the panel warned, which might be passed on to consumers.

The watchdog also said the educational reforms the SRA is pursuing could require it to take a more hands-on role in solicitors' qualifications, such as by developing a syllabus and setting a centralised standard, which would add financial burdens on the regulator. These costs would again be passed on to consumers and would-be solicitors. 

But unlike the solicitor profession, which has warned against removing the need for a degree-level qualification for new entrants to the law, the consumer panel said the SRA should refrain from mandating that all solicitors should be graduates. It said this would exclude those who come into the profession later in life, who might not hold a degree but had years of experience.

Meanwhile, a response by the City of London Law Society warned that the proposals could create a ‘two-tier’ legal profession.

In its response last month, The Law Society said it strongly supports centralised assessment - but provided that the level is set appropriately and does not result in a dilution of standards.

Readers' comments (17)

  • I started straight from school as a Trainee Legal Exec, later qualifying as a Fellow, and then studying, as I worked to qualify as a Solicitor.

    I think the routes to coming into the profession always have been there, it's just that most people don't know about them.

    These days I'd caution anyone about doing a law degree first - unless you really must - and you could always do that part time as you worked anyway.

    We need to keep the bar high - that doesn't mean that it shuts out those from a working class background, or from a family with no one who had attained university status in the family previously - I should know, I'm one of them.

    If people want to study for a degree and LPC, fine - the demand is there, they can opt for that route too.

    We don't need any more dumbing down of the system - the MOJ have already done that.

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  • "....The regulator said it has received 250 responses to a consultation on the scheme, which closed last Friday. "

    Hardly an avalanche then.

    "....When the SRA first proposed the idea of a centralised Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) last December, it said the measure would open up more flexible routes into the profession. ..."

    We already have 'flexible' routes into the profession.

    They are called no professional exams.

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  • Slightly off topic, this is not the only concern regarding the SRA's recent pronouncements. Earlier this week, Paul Phillip, the chief exec of the SRA was asked how the SRA would deal with a large firm collapse. The response, said to be 'unanimous' within the SRA was, "the market will gobble up all of the work in an instant". There would be no impact on clients. Interesting. Then why bother intervening in any law firms at all, if the market will 'gobble up' the problem ? Why bother with all the piles of limitless regulation down to how to tie your shoelaces ? And what if the market doesn't want to take the offloaded cases ? S&G's due diligence of case reviews by 70 lawyers is the precise issue at point. And if the Australian regulators are considering an intervention in S&G Oz, as reported in the Oz press, then what are the SRA doing all this time ? S&G have been removed from the ASX 200 list of shares with the share price descending further. No need to worry about it, SRA ? Everything's thoroughly top notch, as Bertie Wooster might say.........gobble, gobble.

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  • ".......Earlier this week, Paul Phillip, the chief exec of the SRA was asked how the SRA would deal with a large firm collapse. The response, said to be 'unanimous' within the SRA was, "the market will gobble up all of the work in an instant". There would be no impact on clients. Interesting. Then why bother intervening in any law firms at all ........."

    I think the idea is to destroy the independent Bar and Solicitors 'Profession', and when they do this that will be the case, which is that may of the cases (widgets) that are in the market places will be simply choses in action.

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  • Many of the cases rather ............

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  • The SRAs policy u turn on financial stability interventions is a sensible decision. Well done Mr.Phillip. If a firm has committed no serious regulatory breaches concerning dishonesty why intervene. The matter should rest in the hands of the administrators who are qualified to deal with such matters not the SRA who are not. This regulatory aporoach works well in Canada and Australia and will work well here. Its a pity this wasn't done sooner too many firms have already been hurt by the previous approach championed by Samantha Barras of harrasing firms who are trying to resolve their financial issues.

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  • Well said anon 9.20 you clearly come from an insolvency background.

    The SRAs approach of investigating firms who enter a pre-pack has been a farce. The SRA are meant to protect client interest not that of unsecured creditors. If wrong doing has been done it is for the administrators to raise a challenge.

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  • Thanks anon 9.25.

    The SRA have been in a mess over this one ever since Samantha Barrass announced at the COLP and COFA conference three years ago that the SRA would come down hard on any firm that did not immediately wind down if facing insolvency. I work in turnaround and was amazed by the comment. As long as the Partners believe that trading through would improve the position of the creditors then it is correct to trade on and not wrongful. Infact 90% of businesses who are technically insolvent quite correctly trade on. Glad to see that the SRA are backing out of an area they don't understand.

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  • Interesting that the issue of Mr Phillips of the SRA and what he has said about a big firm going under is reported on Legal Futures, but not by the Gazette ? Yet the Gazette have given a lot of coverage of the Slater and Gordon situation.

    If as suggested on here, you are leaving it to the market, then fair enough, but having been through Administration, client funds and files, according to the SRA remain the Solicitors responsibility, not the Administrators (even though they will do their best to charge for any involvement in these issues and have been knocked back in a recent court case on this) but more so, the requirements around financial stability must be urgently removed from the regulations, in the interests of all firms, if the SRA are taking the view that for a big firm, this (apparently) is not a breach of the rules, however difficult it may or not be to actually define and demonstrate.

    As for Samantha Barrass, then I can still recall that smug photo where she is holding some ribboned documents championing the entry of the Co-Op or whoever into the 'market'. Strange she's been very quiet ever since !

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  • Raynor Goddard11 March 2016 08:21 am
    "....The regulator said it has received 250 responses to a consultation on the scheme, which closed last Friday. "

    Hardly an avalanche then

    Indeed Raynor, looks more like they are making a 'Mountain out of a Molehill'.

    Furthermore for that number to be viewed as an avalanche in my opinion, only goes to show us just how spoilt and lazy some of these organisations have become, based upon how little work they think that they ought to have to do.

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