New solicitor super-exam to be ‘substantially cheaper’ than LPC

Exclusive: Cost of law school set to plunge, but concerns about “dumbing down” persist

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The solicitor super-exam that is set to be introduced in two years time will represent “real value for money”, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) training chief has pledged, as she reveals plans to make the new vocational training regime “substantially cheaper” than the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

Speaking exclusively to Legal Cheek, SRA education director Julie Brannan lamented the current high cost of the LPC when studied in London, suggesting that it would be “hard to devise an exam that could possibly cost as much as £15,000, even including training”.

She added that one of the key drivers behind the proposed super-exam — whose full title is the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) — was to make qualification as a solicitor “more affordable”, although she declined to give any estimates of precise figures as the wider costings remain “subject to a public procurement exercise”.

The proposed SQE is split into two parts — one exam before the training contract commences and the other at the end of the training contract. Part one is set to be the cheapest, and part two more expensive as it will require the testing of practical skills.

However, there remains widespread scepticism from the legal profession about the SRA’s proposals, with no major law firm yet having come out in support of them. A frequently voiced concern among law lecturers and legal graduate recruiters is that the shake-up will, after a lot of upheaval, actually produce a system that is pretty similar to the current one without any major improvements.

BPP Law School dean Peter Crisp summed up the mood as he told Legal Cheek:

The overwhelming response to the first SRA consultation from both the profession and legal educators was that the SRA’s proposals are not fit for purpose and will result in a dumbing down of legal education. The SRA is not comparing like for like, because the LPC is not an exam. Further what we deliver for the profession is way beyond the minimum requirements of the LPC. We teach a master’s degree in professional legal practice, with specialisms in corporate finance, commercial law, business finance and strategy.

He added:

Firms will not only have to fund the SQE and test preparation for it, disrupting their businesses to cope with it, but will continue to require their future trainees to undertake the training and education they need to be fit for practice.

There is also a concern among students that the SQE will involve more work, thanks to its inclusion not only of the central elements of the LPC but also the core modules of the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The GDL part of the SQE will have to be studied by law graduates and non-law graduates alike, meaning that LLB students will have to pass some academic requirements twice.

The reasoning for this doubling up is that the SRA is concerned about widely fluctuating standards between different universities and LPC providers. Under the super-exam plan, the SRA will centrally assess all students — an approach followed by many legal regulators in foreign jurisdictions. In the long term, Brannan expects to see some universities rolling the super-exam into their LLB degrees, but in the short term there will doubtless be some inconvenience.

But Brannan argues that the upheaval will be more than mitigated by the drop in costs. Citing the failure of the University of the West of England’s low-cost £6,000 LPC, she told us that she reckons that “price has become a proxy for quality in the LPC market” as the dominant law school players use their association with law firms to justify high prices.

“Students think that if Slaughter and May’s future trainees go to BPP then it must be good. It may well be excellent, but there is no other information to help them choose a provider,” Brannan continued, drawing attention to the fact that at present there is no published record comparing how students at different providers perform on the course — largely because the methods of assessment fluctuate widely.

Under a centrally-assessed exam the SRA would aim to make this information publicly available. If this happened, prospective SQE students could make purchasing decisions on the basis of provider performance rather than simply perceived status.

BPP vigorously contested these further claims, with Crisp suggesting that the proposed SQE “lacks rigour to such an extent that it won’t adequately prepare students for practice”.

The SRA wants to hear from you about its super-exam plan. A second consultation is currently underway — you can share your views here.

29 Comments

Anonymous

You have to almost admire the inconceivable stupidity of the SRA. Despite the resounding negative response to this farce, they continue to press on.

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Anonymous

What about all those who paid for the LPC and never got a training contract?

Poor sods.

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Anonymous

Of course BPP will say that it’s a dumbing down. They’re set to lose out on tens of thousands from law firms every year. Think it should be important that this might increase access and allow for individuals to take up TCs in social welfare law.

(14)(6)
Anonymous

It really wont though. It’ll just saturate the legal market resulting in even more candidates unlikely to obtain a TC. Law firms are going to continue to be just as picky over who they offer to.

(28)(2)
Anonymous

That’s not the point. There is a severe lack of accessibility for social welfare law. The opposite is true if the LPC is allowed to continue at its expense. Only those who can afford to fork out the money for LPC will do this area of law.

(1)(3)
Anonymous

Good job it will be cheaper, because a saturated market will only hamper wages.

So we will end up on the same position really.

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Anonymous

Probably because nobody wants to do social welfare law…

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Anonymous

and you certainly wont be studying social welfare law under the SRA’s new proposals!

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Anonymous

I wonder how many graduates actually aim to do social welfare law in the first place

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Anonymous

The issue of cost might not be associated with the actual exams.

Where there will be high costs, will be in the “preparation courses” people will pay to try and help them pass the course. Those who can afford it will get private tutors and pay for the formal courses to help them pass, while those who can’t will try to juggle working and studying for these exams. BPP are already charging upwards of £4500 for their QLTS prep course, and I am sure will increase that to closer to their LPC fees should this go ahead as the SRA wants.

Given there are two stages as well, there will be two preparation courses. And then there will be two sets of exam fees to pay as well (QLTS is currently £4,500 for one round). Will this really be a cheaper option, especially considering some may take the exam multiple times like they do with the NY Bar?

(12)(0)
Anonymous

I imagine this would have an impact on insurance too? I can’t see your insurer having much confidence if you haven’t completed any formal training etc.

I agree that the LPC does need to be changed but I think this idea is inappropriate and not very well thought out.

I imagine people had similar reservations about CILEX, however at least with CILEX their is a supervision scheme in place and transactional experience.

This really is simply absurd.

(4)(0)
Anonymous

I asked a panel at one of their “consultations” if any of them had actually done the LPC. None had.

They had, however, been on the board of the British Medical Association to “reform medical education.” That went well (!)

(10)(0)
Aberwystywth llb

I hope the Super exam won’t happen. The LPC is a much better way of preparing for the legal world. It would be stupid to get rid of it.

(4)(4)
Anonymous

How could you possibly say that the LPC is “much better” given that you’re still doing your LLB?

(4)(1)
Anonymous

Ignore him, it’s a piss-poor troll attempt, he’s pasted this crap on all other LC articles today.

(1)(0)
Anonymous

Imagine having to finish your training contract and then do exam two – how stupid.

(5)(0)
Anonymous

Why? This is the system in a lot of European countries. You train for a year or two, then sit the bar.

Examples: Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, and I am sure there are many more.

It’s not optimal if you have to take a long time off to study for the final exam (as is the case in Switzerland, for example), but practicing brings you a fresh perspective on theory, and if the examination is meant to test your practical skills as well, where else are you supposed to obtain them if not in practice?

(1)(0)
Anonymous

The LPC was the biggest joke. Over priced. Hardly any support.

It does not prepare you for real practice at all.

(4)(2)
Bernard George

There is a profound conflict of interest in teaching institutions setting professional exams for their own students, and determining the pass rate. This has resulted in low and inconsistent standards.

The LPC has also produced very expensive courses (because as Julie Brannan says, students assume an expensive course must be good).

A set of rigorous, centrally-set examinations is the only way to achieve decent standards. The sooner this comes in the better.

(1)(0)
Mary Butler

I absolutely agree with all the comments which say that the LPC is rubbish, the new proposals are not an improvement and having institutions set and mark their own exams is inherently conflicted anyway and the more so when the number of bums on seats you will get to cough up 12 grand next year depends on what your pass rate is. I am a partner in a small provincial firm and I am heading up our response to the consultation. In doing that I have spoken to the JLD , had regular meetings with our own trainees and put in my own ten pennorth. The theme which constantly emerges is a course which is not fit for purpose anyway in that it skates over areas which ought to be taught in much much more depth, teaching methods which are risible ( seminars only so no lectures and no work assessed or marked by the staff which makes me wonder what the hell they are actually doing for the twelve thousand nicker per capita) and an exam system which acts as a rubber stamp for putting in the time and paying the money. When I am dealing with bright new trainees who have passed everything in the lpc first time round but who don’t have a clue what instructions to counsel are let alone how to draft them and have never seen a commercial lease then there is something very very wrong. As someone who sat the finals exams in 1982 and still rates it as one of the worst experiences of my life I never thought I would say that the course we were taught in Chester in 1981/82 was the bees knees but we had hours of lectures and tutorials every week, had regularly assessed and marked work , mock exams every six or seven weeks and, as well as the legal knowledge we had crammed into us, we did so much drafting and form filling that by the end of the course we could do it in our sleep. By comparison with the LPC it was the Marines v the Girl Guides. But everyone I trained with who passed the exams got articles and is now qualified. Go figure. What is needed is rooting out if the no hopers before they get onto the practice course by whatever means that happens. Degree grade is not reliable given the number of Mickey Mouse places who now run law degree factories but, to be fair, it never was. So how that happens I don’t know but may be a short two week course focusing on two practice areas then a hurdle exam? Then a rigorously planned, taught and assessed course which focuses on the stuff trainees actually need to know. Interviewing skills I can teach. A trainee will never do a trial so I don’t care if they have done a mock one on the LPC. They will however be asked to issue proceedings and wind up an estate so I expect them to know what court papers look like and how probate is obtained. Then the exams need to be much harder, centrally set, centrally marked and the pass rates published.That would drive out of business some of these charlatan providers and finally start to redress the balance so the market is not swamped and there are thousands upon thousands of unemployed candidates, some of whom should never have been allowed to get that far in the first place and all of whom have a huge debt burden. That in turn would lead to the driving up of trainee salaries and, who knows, perhaps even the reintroduction of the minimum salary the abolition of which was a travesty and would never have happened if this shambles hadn’t unfolded. Now off to do some work.

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