The Law Society has welcomed revised proposals for a new ‘super-exam’ to be taken by all would-be solicitors but warns that the lack of requirement for a degree could dilute standards.
In a submission due to be published today, the Society says that the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s second consultation on implementing a solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) ‘seeks to address many of our concerns from the first consultation’. The Society is ‘supportive in principle’ of the proposal ‘so long as the level is set appropriately and there is no dilution of standards'.
It said the revamped plans, which include legal education and training as well as work-based learning, are ‘far closer to being a robust and effective measure of competence than previous proposals’.
The regulator received more than 200 responses to its initial consultation, which closed earlier this year - many of them highly critical.
The Society nevertheless remains concerned over funding for the exam and uncertainty over the level of qualification needed to take it.
On the apprenticeship route, it says: ‘We would urge the SRA to work with government to ensure, and robustly demonstrate to candidates and employers, that apprenticeships are at least equivalent to degrees. Otherwise there is a real risk that the solicitor apprenticeship route could be undermined.’
It adds that the SRA should ensure that funding is made available for students who wish to take the exam and that the changeover does not impose a new financial barrier on entrants. ‘Such a financial barrier would inevitably impact most on individuals from lower-income groups, with a negative effect on diversity and social mobility,’ it added.
The consultation response says it is ‘essential to the reputation of the SRA in particular and to the profession in general, both domestically and abroad, that the SQE assessments are both reliable and valid, and do what they set out to do’.
Further, the Society says the timetable for implementing the exam, currently 2019, should be extended if necessary as it would be damaging to the profession and SRA if the assessments were seen as a failure.
The Law Society raises also argues that:
- Any workplace placements should last a minimum three months and each trainee has a maximum of four placements;
- The SRA should rethink proposals that would not require trainees to be assessed in both contentious and non-contentious practice areas;
- A timetable is needed for the evaluation of and details regarding measures for success; and
- Concerns need to be addressed that the SRA’s separate ‘Looking to the Future’ consultation could allow a newly qualified solicitor to set up in business as a sole practitioner, rather than requiring them to have, effectively, three years' post-qualification experience.
The Society added: ‘If the potential information and financial barriers are addressed, then these new routes into the profession have the potential to widen access.’
The second SRA consultation closes on 9 January.