The Solicitors Regulation Authority has cautiously bowed to the demands of junior lawyers, saying Legal Practice Course assessments might be able to move online.
In a legal training update, the SRA said it will consider applications for the online or remote invigilation of supervised LPC exams, as part of a series of relaxation measures. It had previously suggested online assessments would not be permitted for core subjects and that the exams would have to be delayed.
The regulator said: ‘We have a statutory duty to make sure that those who are admitted as solicitors have the knowledge and skills necessary for practice…One of the ways we do this is through our requirements for supervised assessments on the LPC. It will of course be challenging to meet these requirements during the Covid-19 pandemic and so for this period, we are relaxing our current assessment requirements for all parts of the LPC.’
While exams on core LPC subjects must still be supervised, the SRA said it will consider applications for online or remote proctoring of supervised assessments. It added that LPC providers ‘must apply to us for approval before making any changes to assessments. We will consider changes to our current requirements on a provider by provider basis. Approval will be subject to review by us at any stage’. For skills assessments and elective subjects, law schools are free to make alternative arrangements.
Earlier this week the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) wrote a letter to the SRA urging it to consider online exams, as well as coursework and video assessments. Chair of the JLD Charlotte Parkinson said postponing LPC exams until the autumn is ‘unworkable’ and students must know their grades before the end of August.
In response to the update, the JLD said: ‘We are particularly pleased to see that the SRA will at least consider alternative arrangements for examinations. However we note that the onus is on the education providers to develop appropriate solutions. We hope that these providers will now lead the way in creating pragmatic and sensible solutions to ensure adequate arrangements are in place for students to take exams, and receive results, before the September 2020 trainee intake.’
The SRA also confirmed that trainees are permitted to start their training contracts before they have completed the LPC. It added that trainees can work from home as long as there are ‘sensible arrangements in place for supervisors to review trainees’ work remotely’ and there is no limit for how long this can go on for.
In a separate letter to training contract providers, junior lawyers urged firms to heed this advice and to supervise trainees remotely rather than placing them on leave of absence.
The JLD said: ‘Where possible, we ask that you consider whether it is entirely necessary to furlough trainee solicitors. Although they may be working from home and will not be physically near a supervisor, this does not mean that their role and their training contract needs to be suspended. In this digital era, it is easier than ever to stay in touch remotely and we ask that you use the means available to you, as a firm, to supervise remotely.’
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.