Some 2,000 solicitors have contributed to a ‘competence statement’ identifying the skills that newly qualified members of the profession should have from day one, Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) director of education and training Julie Brannan said today.

The solicitors were taking part in a consultation as part of the implementation of the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR), the research stage of which was published earlier this year.

Brannan (pictured) told the Westminster Legal Policy Forum that ‘flexible pathways and rigorous standards’ lay at the heart of the SRA’s educational reform programme. She also outlined the progress made since the training reforms were announced to slash red tape, make CPD more effective and open the doors for new ways to qualify as a solicitor.

Giving context to the recent reforms, Brannan added that the landscape for legal education and training had been transformed since the 1990s, when the legal practice course was introduced and university was free to those eligible - through means testing - for a full grant from the government.

The cost of qualification was now a significant barrier to some aspiring solicitors and any training reform framework needed to reflect this. 

Brannan said: ‘We’ve already started the process of opening up pathways to qualification. We are fully signed up to the new apprenticeship schemes in England and Wales which will enable people to qualify as a solicitor through working in a legal environment rather than going to university.

‘Our training framework must recognise this. Encouraging bright, ambitious people from all backgrounds to qualify as solicitors can only strengthen the profession and therefore better protect clients. We need to focus not just on admission, but on progression, too, to see a properly diverse profession in all parts of the legal services market.

‘We see the competence statement as an essential tool for achieving this, and we would particularly encourage strong responses on diversity issues in our consultation.’

Another speaker at the forum, trainee Josie Beal, gave perspective from the younger end of the profession. ‘I learned more from paralegalling than from my legal education,’ she said. ‘We need to bridge the divide between education and employment.’

A copy of Julie Brannan’s speech is available on the SRA site. The consultation on the competence statement is also available.

The LETR, sponsored by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and Chartered Institute of Legal Executive Professional Standards, was billed as ‘the most fundamental review of legal education and training for a generation’.