The work experience needed to qualify as a solicitor is under the spotlight again as the SRA moves to allay fears over the standards that the SQE will guarantee.
Feelings run high on the ‘super-exam’. To understand that strength of feeling requires context; SQE has a relationship to wider issues in the law.
The first is the continuing competence regime, which replaced CPD. The deregulation of the competence regime was a positive change, provided those admitted as solicitors are good enough, and well prepared enough, to uphold the professional identity they have acquired.
Second is the ongoing liberalisation of the legal services market. The SRA, through SQE, seeks to generalise the quality standard indicated by the solicitor ‘marque’.
Third are the claims made for SQE’s role in promoting social mobility – providing potentially cheaper and more diverse routes to qualification.
Rigorous controls on entry to the profession represent the most obvious way of regulating the quality of its members. So getting SQE right is crucial.
It can be argued that the work experience that has provided a candidate with the opportunity to develop ‘some or all’ of the skills required sets the bar too low. Any lack of clarity on SQE will also undermine the aim of achieving that social mobility outcome. Nebulous rules can be even more difficult for ‘outsiders’ to interpret and navigate.