City lawyers have raised concerns that standards will not be maintained if the Solicitors Regulation Authority goes ahead with proposals to enable solicitors to qualify through an apprenticeship route.
The City of London Law Society said that although it was ‘supportive’ of the concept of apprenticeships as a way of broadening access to the profession, it was ‘far from being reassured standards will be maintained’.
The SRA’s April consultation on cutting red tape, Improving regulation: proportionate and targeted measures, asked for approval for proposals to enable qualification as a solicitor through the apprenticeship route.
The SRA suggested amending the training requirements to say that the regulator will admit solicitors who have completed an apprenticeship and met requirements set out in the Apprenticeship Standard for a Solicitor (England) or in the Level 7 Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Practice (Wales).
But the CLLS balked at the entry requirements listed in the Solicitor Apprenticeship Standard, describing the fact that they facilitate entry onto apprenticeships with no academic qualifications as ‘inconceivable’.
The response said that even if this was altered the society was still not convinced standards would be maintained.
‘To us, the real issue is that we are being asked to agree to something which does not require a period of recognised training, only ‘relevant employer led experience’; does not meet the equivalent means test; and consists of an unknown assessment process,’ the CLLS said.
The response stressed that it was unclear how the solicitor apprenticeship standard would assure that trainees would reach the equivalence of postgraduate level.
It also said that the amendments to the training requirements ‘signal a fundamental change’, and ‘preempted’ the outcome of the SRA’s proposed Training for Tomorrow reforms. It suggested limiting reforms to those facilitating Trailblazer Apprenticeships.
The Law Society meanwhile supported the SRA’s plans as ‘in line with our policy of supporting alternate routes into the profession’.
‘The Society is content to recognise that these are government schemes and that the standard of these is therefore set by them.’
But it cautioned that the SRA should continue to monitor standards and retain control over admission of those from apprenticeship schemes.