Paralegals who qualify as solicitors without completing a formal training contract could damage the solicitor ‘brand’, according to a survey by Leeds Law Society.

Over 60% of the 250 respondents, ranging from law firm partners to undergraduates, said they were worried about the impact of Solicitors Regulation Authority rules on the brand of ‘solicitor’ and a resulting oversupply of prospective employees in the legal market.

Nearly half of those surveyed were concerned about the impact on salaries.

One respondent said: ‘I think the clients may gain some benefit in some circumstances but I do think we may see an increase in claims against solicitors for negligent advice as clients will see those who have qualified through a different route as a weak link in the chain.’

Under the SRA training regulations 2014 - which replace the 2011 regulations - exemptions to the training contract may be granted to a legal practice course (LPC) graduate who can demonstrate ‘other assessed learning and work-based learning’ through ‘equivalent means’ of training.

Paralegals who have undertaken the LPC and worked in three different areas of law can qualify as a solicitor if the firm they have worked for can confirm the work undertaken and skills obtained.

Just over a quarter (27%) of respondents said paralegals who had undertaken this experience should be able to qualify as a solicitor.

Other results include:

  • 73% of respondents say there should be one apprenticeship scheme tied to the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). At present only some apprenticeship schemes are linked to CILEx;
  • 63% believe the number of people undertaking apprenticeships is likely to rise because of the cost of higher education;
  • 68% were concerned that people qualifying via the apprenticeship route will not have the same opportunities as those who undertake the traditional route to qualification.

One respondent said: ‘We should stop diluting the profession and treating it as a “Mickey Mouse” profession… law is one of the few areas where academic ability (in addition to work experience) is absolutely crucial.

‘If we continue to downgrade the profession in this manner, then this will create many more solicitors who are not fit to practise (but who will be unlikely to be found out, as lay people don’t really know the difference and, even if they do, they would be reluctant to complain).’