Sheffield Law School has referred the Solicitors Regulation Authority to the legal watchdog over the new ‘super-exam’, claiming the regulator has published contradictory information about start dates.
The University of Sheffield said it does not know what to advise aspiring solicitors at its upcoming open day. It has asked the Legal Services Board to consider whether the SRA is failing to protect and promote public confidence in the regulatory system, and whether it is acting in a way that is compatible with the regulatory objectives.
Andrew Callaghan, director of the centre for professional legal education, said the SRA previously suggested that graduates who accept a place on a law conversion course before autumn 2021 will be able to follow the traditional route to qualification, avoiding the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
However, the SRA now says that it will not validate law conversion courses beyond autumn 2020, subject to a small number of exceptions, and graduates must take the SQE instead.
‘It is a matter of great concern that institutions and individuals have based their planning upon the statement that has appeared on the SRA's website for some time and that the SRA is now seemingly adopting a different policy,’ Callaghan told Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director of education and training. He referred to a statement on the SRA's website - now removed - which said: 'If you are already on your way to becoming a solicitor or have accepted an offer for a law degree or conversion course before autumn 2021, you can choose to qualify through the existing routes (up until 2032) or through the SQE.'
He added: ‘The matter is one of considerable urgency. We have a [Graduate Diploma in Law] open day coming up, and I am unclear as to what to say to people who are thinking of doing a GDL this coming academic year or the year after. Because of Covid-19 there are likely to be many who could start in autumn of 2020 but who are thinking of delaying for a year.’
The SRA told the law school it had not changed its position and had informed training providers in 2018 that it was extending approvals up to and including the 2020/21 academic year.
A final design for the SQE was signed off last week and will be introduced in September 2021.