The Solicitors Regulation Authority has received an avalanche of criticism over its plan to introduce a central ‘super-exam’ to be taken by all would-be solicitors.
The regulator said it has received 250 responses to a consultation on the scheme, which closed last Friday. This is almost double the number of responses it received on its consultation on the trainee minimum salary in 2012.
Crispin Passmore (pictured), executive director of policy at the SRA, said that 200 of the responses raised minor or serious concerns about the proposals, while the other 50 were ‘mixed’.
He said: ‘I would be amazed if it doesn’t change our mind on some stuff […] We have engaged massively on this, there are a lot of people with a big stake in the current system.’
In a sign of the widespread nature of objections, the Legal Services Consumer Panel weighed into the debate this week, warning that the proposals could increase costs for clients.
When the SRA first proposed the idea of a centralised Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) last December, it said the measure would open up more flexible routes into the profession.
But the panel said that it does not believe the proposed exam enables such flexibility.
It said: ‘Although the SRA suggests the introduction of the SQE would remove the need for candidates to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC), in practice this is dictated by firms’ entry requirement for training contracts. […] It is likely that firms may well favour the status quo.’
This in turn might raise the costs of qualification, the panel warned, which might be passed on to consumers.
The watchdog also said the educational reforms the SRA is pursuing could require it to take a more hands-on role in solicitors' qualifications, such as by developing a syllabus and setting a centralised standard, which would add financial burdens on the regulator. These costs would again be passed on to consumers and would-be solicitors.
But unlike the solicitor profession, which has warned against removing the need for a degree-level qualification for new entrants to the law, the consumer panel said the SRA should refrain from mandating that all solicitors should be graduates. It said this would exclude those who come into the profession later in life, who might not hold a degree but had years of experience.
Meanwhile, a response by the City of London Law Society warned that the proposals could create a ‘two-tier’ legal profession.
In its response last month, The Law Society said it strongly supports centralised assessment - but provided that the level is set appropriately and does not result in a dilution of standards.