The Solicitors Regulation Authority has attempted to allay fears over the signing-off of work experience completed under the proposed new ‘super-exam’ by confirming that a solicitor who signs off training must have sufficient experience of the candidate’s work.
In an announcement today, the SRA said it had approved the regulations which bring into force the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) while ’making changes to bolster assurances around qualifying work experience’.
The SRA published a consultation paper on the regulations needed to bring the SQE into effect in May this year.
Before qualifying, the SQE requires trainees to pass a two-part exam and undertake two years of work experience at no more than four separate firms, educational institutions or other organisations.
However, the paper prompted concerns by implying that work-based training could take place in organisations in which no solicitors worked. Further, the paper also suggested that the final sign-off might be completed by a solicitor or compliance officer from any organisation – even if they did not have first-hand experience of a candidate’s competency.
The regulator today said it had tightened rules on who can sign off work experience. These will require:
- A solicitor outside the organisation to have direct experience of the candidate’s work, including undertaking a review of their work. They must also receive feedback from the person supervising the candidate’s work;
- The COLP or solicitor to confirm that no issues arose during the period of work experience that raise a question as to the candidate’s character and suitability to be admitted as a solicitor.
Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: ‘We have listened to the feedback from the profession on the importance of qualifying work experience and made changes to how that is supervised. Our new approach to qualifying work experience will give candidates real flexibility, address the current training contract bottleneck and give the profession confidence that new solicitors have benefited from the training that only the workplace can provide.’
The SRA said it received 47 responses to the consultation and that opinion was ‘divided’.
The regulations also confirm the SRA’s approach to foreign-qualified lawyers who want to apply to practise as solicitors in England and Wales. All qualified lawyers will need to take the SQE unless they can establish that their qualification and experience are equivalent in content and standard to the SQE.
The SRA will now ask the Legal Services Board to approve the regulations. If approved, an assessment provider will be contracted in spring 2018.
However, the regulator remains coy on the cost of taking the exam and how rigorous the assessment will be. ’Sample assessments and a proposed price for taking the SQE will be published well in advance of implementation’, the SRA said.
Responding to the news The Law Society said it welcomed the fact that the SRA had listened to concerns in relation to sign off.
However, Society President Joe Egan noted that the draft regulation added ’little to anyone’s knowledge of the new regime’ and that it would be premature to adopt the new regulations before further clarity is given.
He added: ’It is essential the work undertaken by trainee solicitors is rigorous enough to prepare them for a career in law but, despite our recommendations, the SRA has said work experience should only provide the candidate with the opportunity to develop some or all of the skills required.’