Junior solicitors are concerned that the solicitor brand could be ’devalued’ under the latest plans for implementing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination ‘super-exam’. 

Responding to a consultation on the SQE, which sought feedback on the regulations needed to put the exam into place, the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) will say it is concerned that prospective solicitors will no longer be required to take a law degree whereas those who want to become a barrister would. The division is also concerned that the new route will be no cheaper than the current qualifying path.

The division, which represents 70,000 young lawyers and law students in England and Wales, will say that it is ‘very likely’ that SQE candidates would (subject to the available funding) want to opt for a preparatory course before taking the exam.

‘The SRA believes that some universities will look to incorporate the SQE preparation within the existing three-year law degree. However, this is entirely dependent on the institutions making this decision and even if they do, the candidate who has chosen the “cut-price” option will potentially be less attractive to firms as they do not hold a traditional LLB or qualifying law degree,’ the JLD will say.

‘Further, the JLD is concerned that prospective barristers will still be required to undertake a qualifying law degree. This would therefore divide the profession and could potentially devalue the solicitor brand and force students to decide whether they wish to train as a solicitor or barrister from an even earlier date,’ the response adds.

The division also expresses concern about social mobility and warns that if reasonable funding options are not made available, candidates unable to afford the preparatory course may opt for the SQE only, which could result in lower marks.

In a wide-ranging consultation response seen by the Gazette the JLD also expresses concern that students from less privileged backgrounds may fall into debt during the work experience element of the exam.

The JLD also calls for a further consultation on the content of the exam and says it still has concerns over the use of multiple choice questions.

It also seeks further clarity as to what will be accepted as a ‘degree equivalent’. ‘This is an important element of the SQE and we ask that this be defined very clearly so as to avoid any ambiguity,’ it says.

The SRA previously said that ‘equivalent means a qualification that is at level 6 of the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications.’

In a separate consultation response published yesterday the Law Society said it wanted to be encouraging about the SQE, but that little information about the rules governing the framework was known.

The SQE, brainchild of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, is set to be in place by 2020.