The Solicitors Regulation Authority has overruled objections from lawyers and law firms and is pushing ahead with a standardised exam for new solicitors.

In 2020 the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will replace all the current routes to becoming a solicitor, including the requirement for qualifications including the GDL and LPC. Instead, anyone wanting to become a solicitor will need to complete five elements. Firstly, candidates will need either a law degree, a non-law degree, an "equivalent qualification" or an apprenticeship comprising "equivalent experience". Candidates will then have to complete SQE stage 1, comprising an assessment of legal knowledge in six core areas and a practical assessment of legal research and writing skills. Candidates must then complete SQE 2, which assesses five practical legal skills.

The fourth element of the SQE will be two years' work experience. In a significant change from the current system, it will no longer have to be completed as a block two year training contract with a single provider. Instead candidates will be permitted to gain work experience at up to four different places, including student law clinics and pro bono projects. It means students on a so-called 'sandwich' degree course which wraps up two years' work on the job could fulfill the work experience element of the SQE before they even graduate.

The fifth component is a "character and suitability test" to be administered at the point of a candidate's admission to the profession. Like much of the SQE, it's long on intent and short on details.



The response to the SRA's consultations was overwhelmingly negative, with 60% of respondents either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the proposal that the SQE was a "robust and effective measure of competence". But the SRA said that the public are in favour, touting an August 2016 poll in which 76% of 1,866 people agreed that they would have "more confidence in solicitors if they all passed the same final exam".

At a press conference the SRA's Chief Executive, Paul Philip, said that it had been the "most contentious" project the regulator had attempted. Executive Director Crispin Passmore said that (luckily for the SRA), "popularity has never been the objective of a regulator", and that "our board is clear this is the right way forward". They predicted that the SQE would be far cheaper for candidates and would therefore increase the diversity of the profession, opening it up to those without a training contract or firm sponsorship who were put off by the £15,000 "LPC gamble".

But it doesn't look like law schools will be out of a job. After initial reactions of horror, they are now positioning themselves to design modules and courses around the SQE. Addressing the opportunity to fill the imminent LPC hole, Professor Peter Crisp, Dean and CEO of BPP University Law School, said, "we have been consulting with law firms for some time now to ensure that any new programmes continue to meet their needs for commercially aware and technically able trainees". Professor Andrea Nollent, Vice Chancellor & CEO at The University of Law, said it was “an exciting time for legal education" and that the reforms "are a unique opportunity for innovation and improvement to legal training". However, both said that important details were still outstanding.

In a blow to solicitors already practising, Philip said, "we need to be able to trust those who enter the profession are fit to practise" but "the current system cannot provide that confidence". He said the SQE would "help law firms recruit the best talent", "help education providers to show just how good they are" and give candidates "from all backgrounds a fair opportunity to qualify". Sqeeee.

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Comments

Anonymous 28 April 17 10:34

If you can't get a training contract to fund the LPC, then question whether you should be attempting to get into law. It isn't for everyone.

Roll On Friday 28 April 17 11:10

So will some big firms pay for people to do the part 2 exams on a course say lasting 6 months? Those without a law degree might do a year of studying instead to cover their part 1s and part 2s. Presumably part 1s could just be part of a law degree and taken with it in the first year. Or may be non law students could do part 1 law whilst doing their final year of their degree or a crash course from June to September to take and pass the part 1s?

Anonymous 28 April 17 18:48

wow...what a regulator won't do to increase its bottom line. This is insane and fundamentally erodes the idea of effective legal practice.

Anonymous 29 April 17 16:55

How many Alan Blacker's will sneak in through this looser system????

Anonymous 29 April 17 20:35

WTF is an "equivalent qualification" or an apprenticeship comprising "equivalent experience"?!

I wonder if a similar option will be available to those of us who've realised a career in law is overrated and want to try teaching instead - there's a recruitment shortage and staff retention problems, but applicants with law degrees are only fit to teach in a primary school apparently. Would've studied something else and then the GDL if I'd known that I'd be unable to do the PGCE to teach at GCSE level with a law degree.

Too many cooks (routes) spoil the broth? Still no word on what this exam is likely to cost..?

Roll On Friday 02 May 17 14:01

What on earth does this say about the Law Society's previous and historic role in promoting and regulating 'the profession' that if the SRA is correct with their public responses and research show that 'the public are in favour, touting an August 2016 poll in which 76% of 1,866 people agreed that they would have "more confidence in solicitors if they all passed the same final exam. The Law Society should hang their heads in shame. I did pass the 'same' final exam - it was called The Law Society Finals and there was a reason it was tough to most not least the exams - morning and afternoon exams over 5 or 6 straight days. It was widely accepted that the LSF was 'practical theory' geared to high street firms rather than City firms which prompted the change to the LPC in the mid - nineties. Just do the course on line (multiple choice) and be done with it because if you know you want to do conveyancing, why bother studying anything else? AI will sort out the rest in years to come. Your reap what you sow.

Anonymous 02 May 17 17:21

Hmmm... fancy that, the current system can't provide confidence when it disagrees with them...

Anonymous 03 May 17 13:55

Why is it a "a blow to solicitors already practising" given the statement of Philip that "we need to be able to trust those who enter the profession are fit to practise" but "the current system cannot provide that confidence"?

If one is already practising, how should they be affected? To my puny mind, Philip's statements, as quoted (and not personally verified), have bearing upon only those entering the profession rather than those already entered.

Anonymous 03 May 17 16:59

Anon @ 12:55 - if you're currently practising (LPC-wise rather than old money), then you've come through the current system that "cannot provide confidence". Therefore it is a blow to those currently practising if they want people to have confidence/trust in them. Fortunately, though, (as the article's tone should obviously set out - apparently not in everyone's case) Philly's the comments are a load of ballcocks anyway and nobody will actually set any store by them.

Anonymous 03 May 17 19:02

Yes - I am an old git but looked at the original LPC materials and spoke and worked with plenty of trainees who brought their neatly tabbed and highlighted books into the office. The funny thing was the LSF material notes were quite useful - it was the documents and specimen letters that you quickly realised were rubbish. Where does the new test propose to examine common sense, durability,a sense of humour and humility? Massively important qualities in a solicitor imo. Anyway, the job is about selling these days so may as well have that on the compulsory sections of course. Anything technically difficult - send it to the bar. Want it cheap? - outsource to North of England or India.

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