Fewer than one in five major law firms report feeling positive about a proposed shake up to the qualification process for solicitors, while a majority of firms say the benefits have yet to be properly explained.
The findings, a blow to the soon-to-be-implemented Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), appear in research commissioned by BPP Law School.
According to the findings, 18% of 59 firms responding to an online questionnaire said they felt positive about the SQE while 72% said they felt the intended benefits had not been sufficiently explained. One in four of the firms said they believed the change will result in a more diverse talent pool - a central aim of the reform. Just under half (44%) said they understood the changes that are being planned.
The firms taking part in the survey, which have not been named, have a combined annual turnover of approximately £15 billion and offer 850 training contracts a year.
Jo-Anne Pugh, strategic director of programme design and development at BPP University Law School, said: ‘Law firms, regardless of size, share a general concern about the SQE even if their understanding of the implications is more varied. Interestingly, the more firms said they understood the SQE changes the less positive they felt about it.’
However, she added: ‘It would be a mistake to overdo the negativity. Our survey also makes clear that significant proportions of law firms are neutral about the SQE and are taking steps to address the training implications.’
The survey, which also sought the views of 1,370 students – both law and non-law - was carried out by Trendence UK.
According to the results, 44% of law students and 42% of non-law students did not know of the changes. When the changes were explained to them, 43% of the 1,370 respondents said they found them ‘worrying’.
However, so far concern over the SQE has not yet led many students to change their postgraduate plans. Only 15% of law students said they would postpone starting postgraduate courses.
Pugh added: ‘Ultimately, it may make sense for law firms and students to see the SQE as an essential “floor” for legal training rather than a sufficient ceiling. After all, the regulator only determines what the minimum requirement is – the market decides what is ideal.’
An SRA spokesperson said: ’The SQE is about confidence that new solicitors are meeting consistent, high standards. With multiple exams and courses, the current system doesn’t do that.
’We have spoken to more than 9,000 people in developing the SQE, and drew up our proposals with their input. Four out of five members of the public supported the idea, with opinion more divided elsewhere, including amongst the 110 legal education providers.
‘The report highlights many of the potential benefits of the SQE, including the opening up of the apprentice route into the profession. We have said that we will be working to make sure students and aspiring solicitors are fully aware of the changes and transition arrangements, and the report supports our thinking. We look forward to working with training providers such as BPP to get the message out about these changes.’