The profession has reacted with scepticism to proposals to plough ahead with a super-exam for all would-be solicitors, expressing fears of ‘dumbing down’ – and that smaller firms may lose out on trainees.
One legal academic described the plans as ‘useless’.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority last week began its second consultation on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination. It proposes that candidates will need to be qualified to ‘degree level or equivalent’ and be tested on knowledge of law and legal processes, legal thinking and writing.
The exam will be taken in two stages: a computer-based multiple-choice exam taken in six parts, and a practical stage, including presenting arguments and drafting.
Candidates would also need to complete a period of workplace training, such as in a student law clinic, working as a paralegal, or a formal training contract.
However, the SRA said it expected many aspiring solicitors to take stage 1 before their work experience and stage 2 after it.
The Law Society warned that any centralised assessment process must ensure clear entry routes to the profession and not result in a dilution of standards. A spokesperson said: ‘We are pleased that the SRA paused to review their earlier proposals following widespread concern across the profession.’
Legal academics contacted by the Gazette were unenthusiastic. Rebecca Huxley-Binns, vice-provost at the University of Law, said the proposals for stage 1 of the SQE had a ‘very broad specification’.
‘For a student who has been taking a part-time law degree over four or five years and may not even have started a workplace job, to take that exam is a big ask,’ she said. ‘We need to see any questions to be assured of standards.’
Avrom Sherr, emeritus professor at the University of London Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, slammed the ‘useless’ proposals for ‘yet another examination’, and said there was a ‘complete lack of necessity for yet another exam’.
‘It’s the lack of honest articulation that is worrying. There has not been a clear enough reason given as to why this is being done,’ he said.
Andrew Callaghan, senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield School of Law, said proposals to allow trainees to come on board before the second stage of the exams could see smaller firms that do not have sufficient training resources become more reluctant to take on trainees.
The SRA received a barrage of criticism when it first introduced plans for the SQE in December 2015.
Speaking to the Gazette last week, Crispin Passmore, the SRA’s executive director for policy, admitted the revised plans would not be universally popular but assured sceptics that candidates would undergo ‘rigorous testing’.
The consultation closes on 9 January.