The volume of criticism against the planned Solicitors Qualifying Exam cannot be ignored.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s consultation on its central ‘super exam’ proposals closes today and I haven’t seen one response in support of it.
It may be that I have missed something. But so far as I can tell, criticism has come from across the board: City firms, universities, the Law Society, junior lawyers.
The list of concerns is equally endless. The exam could hurt social mobility, force students to take out expensive commercial loans and damage the solicitor brand.
Obviously the whole point of consulting is to draw out criticism. But proposals with any merit in them would not attract such unanimous negativity on so many points. Especially as the aims of the reform are something the legal profession would support.
When the SRA first announced its plans, it said the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) would open up more flexible routes into the profession and bring down the cost of qualifying. This, it said, would encourage diversity and social mobility.
When report after report highlights the lack of diversity in the profession, particularly at City firms, any move likely to improve matters should surely be welcomed. And as the number of those taking law degrees far outstrips the number of training contracts that are available, I can understand why the SRA would want to reduce the costs of qualifying for a profession some may ultimately fail to get into.
But unfortunately it seems as though the proposals could have just the opposite results. If students continue to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and then 'crammer' courses crop up to help students pass a central exam, costs will rise if anything. And if, as it seems, firms hiring new solicitors do not trust the SQE, it will make where someone has studied and how they have qualified more important rather than less.
I accept that any sweeping reforms are going to provoke some backlash, particularly in an area which is so emotive. But when the backlash is this strong I don’t see how the SRA can push ahead with its plans, at least without some major adjustments.
Chloe Smith is a Gazette reporter