‘Unprecedented, unproven and without justification’. This was presumably not the response the Solicitors Regulation Authority hoped for when it applied to the Legal Services Board asking it to sign off proposals to overhaul the qualification system for solicitors.
Rather then giving the Solicitors Qualifying Examination the green light, the LSB gave itself an extra month to consider proposals, telling the SRA to go away and come back with more information.
To anyone who has been following the gestation of SQE this will come as no surprise. Getting answers from the SRA on key questions has been a thankless task. How much will it cost? How will it improve access to the profession? How will high standards be ensured?
You would think answers to these questions would be readily available. But no.
However, as responses to the SRA’s application to the LSB have shown, although the unknowns are a cause for concern, so too are the knowns.
Take for example, the fact that a degree in law, or relevant conversion course, is no longer a requirement.
Legal academics, including the Association of Law Teachers, said this ‘contrasts with the position in virtually every country in the world’. Doing something unprecedented is not necessarily wrong, they note, but it is ‘important to consider why no other jurisdictions, and no other UK professions, have adopted the proposed approach’.
The responses are equally critical on the proposal to include a multiple-choice-based element as part of the exam. ’The SQE is anti-intellectual, the academics charged. ’It requires the learning of law and its application and does not require the ability to critique the law, think about it, evaluate it or apply any higher order thinking skills.’
It’s one of the most explicit attacks yet and the SRA will have to come up with a convincing argument to prove the SQE is a plan worth pursuing. The Law Society also sought assurances, saying approval should not be given until it is established whether the exam will improve equality, diversity and access to the profession.
Pending approval, the birth of a new era in solicitor qualification is a little over 24 months away. The time for answers is now.