In defence of the solicitor super-exam… an NQ’s perspective

The SQE will stop the LPC gamble

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In the week the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority’s (SRA) consultation into the controversial Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) ends, criticism of the proposed super-exam is snowballing. Though the SRA is hopeful the planned changes to legal education will make qualification more affordable, commentators are concerned the SQE will lead to a dumbing down of lawyers. But is it all bad news? Newly-qualified (NQ) solicitor Ben Brownscombe doesn’t think so. Here is his defence of the solicitor super-exam.

The SQE has been covered extensively in the legal press throughout its consultation phase. A quick search-engine review demonstrates that many within the profession are yet to be convinced as to the benefits of the proposal. On this basis, one naturally begins to form the opinion that the proposal may be unnecessary and, crucially, will fail to deliver on the change that is needed. Scratch the surface, however, and it becomes clear that the SQE gives rise to some genuinely positive changes which, if implemented correctly, could have far-reaching benefits.

Having recently qualified, I have seen first-hand some of the problems with the current system. Almost any NQ lawyer will tell you that, for a sizeable number of students, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) is a lottery. When studying the LPC, I was placed into a teaching group with around 12 others, the vast majority of who had not secured a training contract and were privately funding their studies to the tune of around £12,000. For students without a training contract, most of who will already be laden with significant debt, the LPC represents an expensive gamble.

This begs the ethics-driven question of whether the profession should promote a system where students are charged substantial fees for a vocational course in the knowledge that a large proportion of them will never actually use it. Some aspiring solicitors even end up falling out of the profession altogether because they become disillusioned with the elusive search for a training contract.

In getting rid of the LPC, the SRA will be bringing students a step closer to the real substance of any lawyer’s qualification process — the work-based experience. Of course, in its place will sit stage one of the SQE but if the SRA delivers on its promise that fees will be low, it will mean that students will not be required to fork out thousands of pounds before having done all that they can to obtain a training contract.

There are numerous other benefits. Some detractors of the SQE have commented that it may dilute the quality of the profession. On the contrary, it is often remarked that the training contract fail rate is remarkably low with minimal oversight as to the level of training afforded by firms to trainees. In introducing a centralised exam such as the SQE, it will be incumbent upon firms to adequately prepare their trainees in the knowledge that to not do so could greatly affect the firm’s standing and its retention rates.

Further still, and perhaps most importantly, the SRA will be in a position to gauge the level of each trainee entering the profession by reference to a universal standard. It is hard to think of anything more rigorous than that.


On the day the SRA’s consultation ended, Legal Cheek polled its Twitter followers on the proposed SQE. Over three quarters said the SQE is a bad idea.

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18 Comments

Anonymous

I think it is way too early to judge the SQE and all these keyboard warriors slagging it off are just jumping on the bandwagon! Let’s see what the consultation throws up before we assume it’s all bad news

(5)(1)
Anonymous

Anyone who has read the very thorough details on what is to be expected through the various extensive consultation documents and professional responses to them should be able to make a decent judgement.

But if you are just reading a LC article on it, you probably can’t.

(7)(1)
Anon

Shame you’ve completely misunderstood the SQE, Mr Brownscombe. SQE1 is to be taken before you start your work based learning (just like the LPC) and SQE2 is to be squeezed (somehow) into that work based learning. The costs of teaching the SQE1 are likely to be the same as for the LPC and there are additional preparation costs for SQE2.

(9)(2)
Yankee Doodle Doo

How about just establishing one big Bar Exam like they got in the US?

If you like to do more prep for it, undertake a Bar Review course. If not, go and just sit it. Done.

(1)(1)
Anonymous

People will still put themselves though the exams without job offers. The desperate or well off will also pay thousands for prep courses and private tuition. The SQE1 will be like the NYB and you only have to look at how many thousands of people sit that each year with no job prospects but thinking it will make them employable.

The system will also create a sub group of “trainees” who pass SQE1 stages but then fail SQE2. Some will say this is appropriate – is it right that all trainees qualify after two years work experience with little focus on whether they are good enough? But what happens to those people – do they stay in trainee purgatory until they pass an exam, no matter how good their employer thinks they are? Firms will potentially have to offer NQ roles to trainees they think haven’t performed on the job over those who have, where the underperformed passes the exam but the star trainee who does an exceptional day job doesn’t.

And that could lead to a very interesting development in recruitment. Will firms choose to invest less in training trainees where it is far riskier, and instead choose to actively recruit at NQ level instead?

(6)(0)
Not Amused

A regulator intervening to reduce costs always has precisely the same effect as a senior judge changing the CPR to reduce costs or Baroness Hale’s latest attempt to clarify the law, i.e. the opposite one to the one intended.

(7)(1)
Anonymous

I have long argued that students should only be able to enroll onto the LPC once they have a training contract (and the same goes for the BPTC, in respect of pupillage). I accept there are logistical problems with this approach – such as the fact that some firms (small, regional, high street, etc.) simply do not plan their training needs a year in advance, so cannot wait for a student to sit the LPC. But those can be worked around – perhaps with better financial planning?

The current system significantly favours wealthier students – i.e. those with the cash to spare to make the gamble of paying £12k in the hope that you can find a training contract. If the profession gives a fig about social diversity (which it claims to) then the profession ought to do something end this.

I still don’t really understand why we can’t have a system like accountancy training – where you have a training contract (3 years I think?) during which you work part-time and study part-time. That would allow trainees to have a stable income whilst conducting any professional training they require.

(12)(0)
Anonymous

The accountancy system isn’t necessarily the answer. They have to over-recruit at graduate level because a significant proportion will not pass exams. A failed exam and their career is easily over, and trying to juggle full time working hours (many and not lucky enough to truly do it part time) with study can disadvantage groups of people.

With accountancy many firms outside of the big hitters expect you to be ACA/ATT qualified before you start an entry level job too. So thousands of students sit the exams without a job lined up, and many will have spent money on qualifications they may never use.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

Surely one big difference is that the ACA/ACCA exams are rigorous and challenging, hence lots of people fail. The LPC is Noddy does box ticking, so no-one with a vague hope of working as a competent lawyer fails, so there isn’t really the same risk…

(0)(0)
Anonymous

They aren’t that challenging, although they can be if you are juggling studying with a full-time job and other commitments.

Also accountancy and finance students get exemptions from some ACA modules. It really isn’t that rigorous in those situations.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

I’m far from convinced that this offers any better resolution. Individuals from more privileged backgrounds are much more likely to take the courses full time. It is those coming to the profession later in life (with families etc) or those without the means to not work as the study that will suffer from that system, along with the diversity of the profession.

It is also worth remembering that not an isignifnant proportion of students study the courses here not with a view to practicing here, but because of the weight it carries internationally.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Of course there will be an LPC. It will be re-branded as an SQE course instead and will cost exactly the same. Big firms will pay for their recruits to do it and small firms will expect theirs to have put themselves through it out of their own pocket. The only difference is that you now have to pay exam fees on top.

(7)(0)
Anonymous

Many firms looking for paralegals or in some cases legal assistants, ask for applicants with a qld and the lpc. Withh the potential then to put them through a training contract, this removes many entry level jobs into the legal profession for those not able to afford to put themselves through university let alone the lpc.

(0)(1)
NegativeInfinityPQE

I have no GCSES or A-levels but a First Class L.L.B from the O.U and a lot of work experience including MC, what are my chances of joining a small regional commercial firm?

Will i be able to become 1PQE?

Find out next week on….

NegativeInfinityPQE-Z

(Serious Question Though)

(3)(2)
lewisham massif

Blud u need 2 spek wiv dis wasteman Tunde, he kno how 2 make it in da city innit

(1)(0)

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