Traditional training contracts can be ‘insurmountable obstacles’ for less advantaged graduates, who are pushed out by those with ‘insider knowledge’, a solicitor has told the regulator’s training conference.
Cordella Bart-Stewart, director of the Black Solicitors Network, said she was ‘confident’ that Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) has the potential to improve diversity and social mobility.
Speaking at the SRA’s annual SQE conference, Bart-Stewart said: ‘A two-year training contract in a law firm is a significant and often insurmountable obstacle for those without contacts, social capital or informed and supportive careers advice. The current system favours the sharp-elbowed pushing out those without insider knowledge but with real potential and much to offer our profession.’
The solicitor said a uniform examination ‘is the best way of establish a consistent universal standard at admission and ensuring fairness to candidates’.
However Nicholas Miller, chief executive of social equality consultancy the Bridge Group, warned that the SQE pathway is likely to be more complicated than the current system.
‘Routes to qualification will be harder to understand and evaluate - especially for prospective candidates with more limited access to good advice and personal contacts,’ he said.
Miller also urged the regulator not to ‘homogenise’ the experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors.
‘We strongly recommend the disaggregation of that group of people who are far too often homogenised - the BAME population. The more often we do not homogenise that group the better, to understand the lived experiences…of those different ethnic groups.