The Solicitors Regulation Authority today reignited the controversial issue of a central examination for all would-be solicitors by publishing a new set of proposals.
The regulator is going back to the profession for its views after an initial document prompted a barrage of opposition and more responses than for any previous consultation.
A second consultation, which closes on 9 January, gives details on what the exam should include and what topics candidates should be tested on.
Last week, the Gazette reported that the exam would be sat in two stages and would test knowledge on legal knowledge and practical skills.
According to the SRA, the SQE will be a ‘rigorous set of assessments’, including knowledge of the law and legal processes, legal thinking, writing, presenting, negotiating and arguing a case.
Under the proposals, candidates would also need to complete a period of workplace training, including in a student law clinic, working as a paralegal, or a formal training contract.
Speaking to the Gazette, Crispin Passmore (pictured), executive director for policy at the SRA, acknowledged there is scope to reduce the amount of required training from the originally proposed 24 months to 18.
According to the consultation, there may also be exemptions for EU citizens in the wake of Brexit.
The SRA previously said it wanted anyone attempting to become a solicitor in England and Wales to pass the proposed Solicitors Qualifying Examination - including from overseas - but conceded that the vote to leave the EU had ‘changed the landscape’.
According to a ComRes poll published today, nearly four in five adults said they believe everyone should pass the same final exam to become a solicitor.
Passmore said the legal market had changed and that meant ‘thinking in different ways’.
‘But before anything, we need to make sure we have an ample design for what the exam may look like,’ he said.
Passmore admitted the plans wouldn’t necessarily be universally popular.
He said: ‘In the responses [to stage two] we will be looking for “nuggets of gold” that test our opinions and could make us reconsider how we do certain things.
‘People simply saying “I don’t like change” isn’t powerful – we will take note of it, but there are always going to be people who don’t like change and they will be the most vociferous.’
The consultation also confirms that there will be no requirement to have a degree but that prospective candidates should be educated to an ‘equivalent level’.
‘If you don’t have a degree it will depend on what you have been doing,’ Passmore said.
‘It may be adequate to have been in the workplace for a number of years,’ he said, adding that all qualified candidates will have been through ‘robust testing’.
The Law Society has said it strongly supports centralised assessment – provided that the level is set appropriately and does not result in a dilution of standards