The Solicitors Regulation Authority's plans for a single centrally set exam for aspiring lawyers could halt the rising number of university applications to study law, junior lawyers warn.

Applications for UK higher education courses in 2017 have fallen by more than 25,000 compared with last year. However, latest UCAS (Universities and College Admissions Service) figures show law applications bucking the trend.

This year 140,200 people applied by the 30 June deadline to study law, 6,300 more than last year. Last year's 133,870 applications were 5,610 up on 2015.

However, Bryan Scant, chair of the Law Society's Junior Lawyers Division, warned that the upward trend could stop once SRA scraps the requirement for prospective solicitors to hold a law degree or general diploma in law.

The regulator will introduce a single centrally set exam from September 2020. To qualify as a solicitor, candidates will need to:

  • pass SQE stages 1 and 2 to demonstrate they have the right knowledge and skills;
  • have been awarded a degree or an equivalent qualification, or have gained equivalent experience;
  • complete at least two years of qualifying legal work experience; and
  • be of satisfactory character and suitability.

Candidates who have a law degree will still need to pass stage 1.

Scant, a solicitor at Coffin Mew in Portsmouth, said the division regularly receives enquiries from students 'who do not know whether to do a law degree or whether it is now redundant'.

But he was reassured to see so many students continue to start their journey into the legal profession 'despite the lack of clarity' over the SRA's plans.

The Law Society welcomed the growing number of law applications. Joe Egan, president, said: 'There are 380,000 people employed in the legal sector and a 1% growth in our sector creates 8,000 jobs elsewhere in the economy.

'Every single day solicitors oil the wheels of justice and business in our country, protect the rule of law and play a vital public interest role, so it’s great to see that young people continue to be interested and inspired to study law.'

Egan added: 'As the SRA presses ahead with the SQE "super-exam" - which will replace the existing routes to becoming a solicitor - we’re providing valuable briefings on what this means for would-be solicitors and the wider profession.'