The new ‘super-exam’ for aspiring solicitors will improve diversity only if employers have confidence in the assessment, an independent report has found.
The Bridge Group, a diversity consultancy, said the Solicitors Qualifying Exam will achieve only ‘modest gains’ if leading law firms continue to recruit directly from a small pool of universities, with little focus on relative SQE performance.
‘Managing stakeholder relationships, and increasing and maintaining employer confidence in SQE, must remain a top priority,’ the report concludes, adding that some firms have indicated they will continue to use conventional pathways to qualification.
The Bridge Group suggests employers should instead ‘wait for SQE data to be available before making recruitment decisions, [meaning] they would no longer have to rely on A-level and degree results (which are not directly related to solicitor competence)’.
In a largely upbeat report, the consultancy says that the SQE has ‘powerful potential’ to increase transparency because it is a standardised exam. It also welcomes the regulator’s commitment to publish SQE results by training provider. Earlier this year, the SRA refused to reveal the pass rates of law schools after finding huge discrepancies in performance, claiming that disclosure ‘could create pressures on providers which might impact standards’.
The Bridge Group also backs the use of ‘single best answer tests’, a form of multiple-choice assessment, but said the SRA needs to investigate why white candidates generally performed better than BAME candidates in a recent pilot.
Nicholas Miller, chief executive of the Bridge Group said: ‘It is impossible to predict precisely the diversity implications of the SQE. Success will depend on how much legal business and training providers embrace the opportunities around these reforms.'
Paul Philip, SRA chief executive said: ‘Introducing a single rigorous assessment is fairer for everyone. Employers will have better information to recruit and the public can have greater confidence in consistent standards. Candidates will be judged on an equal basis, and by giving them more choice about how and where they train, we hope to enable more talented people to have a fair shot at qualifying.'