Training shakeup could block ‘best talent’ – Society

Topics: Junior lawyers,Legal Education

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The Law Society has warned that allowing people to enter the profession without a degree-level qualification will adversely affect clients and dilute professional standards.

In its response to a consultation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority on a proposed ‘super-exam’ for all would-be solicitors, Chancery Lane urges the regulator to make entry routes into the profession clearer so the best candidates can get in ‘regardless of background’.

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The Society also criticises the SRA for making ‘piecemeal’ announcements on training reform and not providing enough detail.

The SRA controversially proposed last December that a centralised Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) should replace existing entry routes. Chancery Lane said it backs centralised assessment ‘provided that the level is set appropriately’.

But president Jonathan Smithers said it is critical that standards are not diluted, as this would damage the standing of solicitors at home and abroad.

He said: ‘It would also not be in the interests of clients who buy legal services to have a poorer standard of service, as access to expert legal advice underpins the justice system and is a cornerstone of our society.

‘We are not convinced the SRA’s plans will result in standards being maintained and we know that many in the profession feel the same way. ‘ 

To ensure the best people can join the solicitor profession irrespective of background, or the pathways taken to qualification, the different routes into the profession need to be ‘absolutely clear’.

Smithers said: ‘The SRA maintains that its proposals will increase access to the profession, but it admits that this would only be the case if legal education and training providers develop training courses that are cheaper and more flexible than the current qualifying law degree and Legal Practice Course (LPC).

‘Our concern is that the SRA’s consultation contains disappointingly little detail on the proposed assessments,’ he added, calling on the SRA to supply evidence that the new entry route would be cheaper.

While the SRA has said its assessments will be at degree level, there would be no requirement for an underpinning degree-level course - such as the law degree, CILEx or apprenticeship courses. It has also mooted dropping the requirement for a period of work-based training.

Smithers said the removal of quality indicators - a degree-level qualification, the LPC and work-based training - will jeopardise the international standing of the solicitor qualification.

He added: ‘The period of on-the-job training prior to qualification is important for the reputation of the solicitor qualification both nationally and internationally, where our academic requirements are already viewed as “light touch” due to the relative brevity of the university education.’

The SRA has said it is likely some form of pre-qualification work experience will be required. But the Society noted the regulator has not fully committed to this and has yet to discuss what it might entail.

Smithers said: ‘The Law Society believes work-based learning is essential and must take place in a legal environment, under the supervision of a solicitor, for a substantial period of two years.

‘The SRA is making piecemeal announcements to the profession on its proposals. This is unhelpful and causing grave concern. We want to see the detail of all the proposals so that they can be robustly scrutinised and their full implications considered, ensuring the stated aims are met.’

Ahead of a government consultation on reforming the 2007 Legal Services Act, meanwhile, the Society called earlier this week for powers to set entry standards and to award the title of solicitor to be returned to the professional body at Chancery Lane. 

Readers' comments (23)

  • "...But president Jonathan Smithers said it is critical that standards are not diluted, as this would damage the standing of solicitors at home and abroad. .."

    It seems that only the Claims Handling Society at 113 Chancery Lane are allowed to do that.

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  • Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose... I am old enough to remember when the Law Society [sic] abolished qualifying as a solicitor the "long way" - by serving articles (not yet a training contract) for 5 years instead of 2. This was designed to allow those not fortunate, or rich enough to be able to go to university, to qualify as a solicitor without any degree, as it was recognised that there are some morons who get degrees and some very able people who do not.

    I well remember the outcry at the temerity of the Law Society to abolish this route to qualifying (I was one of those who thought it the wrong thing to do - some of the most competent lawyers I have ever met qualified that way). Now someone has again realised that having a degree really is not the be all and end all that it tends to be cracked up to be and is trying to innovate ... by doing away with the need to have a degree in order to become a solicitor!

    The principle is so obviously right it hardly needs to be argued. Equally, and much more importantly, the education and training to lead to becoming a solicitor need to be appropriate. That has zero to do with having, or not having, a degree.

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  • I did an apprenticeship, is was called 'articles of clerkship'. A degree only exempted one from taking the 'Part I' exams, everyone did the 'Part II's. The standards were high and many very good solicitors came into the profession without getting a degree by that route. I would argue that the profession in fact lost something vluable by going for graduate only entry.. I recommend the initiatgive but the devil is in the detail and the required level of the still academic knowledge learning. Doing five years articles was no soft option - nor shoudl the new apprenticeship be one.

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  • I don't see why they can't go back to a 5 year apprenticeship as my training principal when I was a trainee (15 years ago) qualified this way and nobody knew more about wills, probate and conveyancing than that guy. He taught me everything he knew in a very thorough and traditional way.

    The Part II course, which I understand used to be run by the College of Law on weekends and a few weeks during the summer (somebody please correct me) would ensure the academic integrity of the process so that only those who pass the exams in the core areas would progress to a legal practice course or training contract.

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  • Yes, there's sense here. I'm retired, but had a fortunate career as a solicitor, barrister in Western Australia, Magistrate in Fiji, and Deputy District Judge.
    Nobody from my family had ever been to university, and I left school at 16 to enter Articles of Clerkship for 5 years. I think you always missed something by not having a degree level education, but I was able to qualify at 21. By 24 I was a fully experienced criminal lawyer. You just cannot do that these days. It was fantastic! Also I had no debt at all.
    There is much to be said for carefully considering a modern pathway into the profession.

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  • What I don't like is that people pay thousands to do the LPC course, the providers make lots of money out of them, and then those young people are thrown onto a legal "paralegal" scrap heap as they cannot get articles so get saddled with debt but cannot move forward with their careers. It is intellectually debunked to assert that only those with degrees have sufficient brains to be a solicitor, as that is manifestly note the case and plenty of successful solicitors came the old fashioned root. So limit entry into the profession by difficult exams, but be flexible about how people can get to the stage of taking those exams in the first place!

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  • If both the SRA and LS had their way you would qualify automatically as a Solicitor provided you

    1. Went on 3 legal diversity walks through London;

    2. Swore allegiance to Baroness Amal Clooney

    3. Could recite the Human Rights Act.

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  • Why not simply revert to the old style Law Society Part 1 followed by Articles followed by Law Society Part 11 as they were in the 1970's/80's. This system worked well and did not cost thousands of pounds. I for one cannot understand why it was changed other than fill to the coffers of the Providers!

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  • Now even nurses get a degree as well as doctors
    Solicitors will not need a degree yet many with degrees and LPC are pushed out by lack of opportunity to obtain a training contract
    The SRA has an agenda which is contrary to the interests of the profession
    Already the public are misled into thinking every Tom Dick and Harriet who works in a law firm is a solicitor.
    Unadmitted people already fancy they are the equals of solicitors
    Lenders already fudge the issue by using the term solicitor and conveyance to mean the same thing
    Someone somewhere wants to bring us down to the lowest denominator in order to dominate the regulatory market don't they?
    The empire building is phenomenal
    Would you consult a doctor who had no degree?
    Would you consult a solicitor in today's market if he had no degree?
    Why did someone somewhere decide in the 1980's it was in the public interest that all solicitors should have a degree except solicitors clerks who would henceforth be known as Legal Executives and after 10 years following their being admitted as a Fellow could qualify without one?
    This is nominally an attempt to make the profession more accessible to people of modest means and to those from diverse backgrounds.
    In fact it looks like the demolition of the profession, so the regulatory body will be very busy for many years dealing with a lack of ability
    As we say, "If you can, do. If you can't, become a regulator"

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  • Much mention has been made of non-graduate entry to the solicitor's profession by means of a five year apprenticeship. Is that one of the proposals that have been put on the table by the SRA? Already on this forum there has been much discussion about the level of remuneration paid to trainee solicitors during their training contracts. In that some have suggested that rather than being remunerated, trainee solicitors should pay a premium for their 'on the job' training. Other than those with wealthy parental support, I doubt that there would be many people who could survive a five year apprenticeship on those terms. At least those who go to university can get a student loan to fund more than half of their total periond of pre-qualification training. Can anyone really see the Government extending that loan facility to those training 'on the job' during a five year apprenticeship? And should they do so, how could the Government deny the same to apprentice plumbers and other trade apprentices? I fear that in our modern society, the idea of re-introducing a five year apprenticeship, as a means of qualifying as a solicitor, would be a non-starter for all but the wealthiest - and they would probably go to university in any event!

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