LEGAL BODY IN FRESH ONLINE BLUNDER



First, the bar’s awful ‘Pupillage Portal’; now the solicitors’ regulator has run into criticism for its handling of students’ online registrations. Cat Pond investigates

A key obligation of the wannabe solicitor is the requirement that they register with the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA). Strict deadlines are enforced and the nervous Legal Practice Course (LPC) student is told sternly that non-compliance will result in ejection from the course.

This process will likely be the first brush many have with issues like professional conduct and suitability, as well as with the regulator itself. And they do say first impressions count.

Sadly, the impression myself and fellow classmates have received has been far from positive. The process this year has been marred by what appeared to be a series of blunders, leaving many students stranded in bureaucracy during the busy time at the start of their courses.

Most completed their applications well before the deadline, with their £80 fee accordingly debited. Some complaints were made about the SRA website – with its ‘creaky’ log-in methods, as well as a penchant for locking users out of their accounts – but in fairness these problems can occur on many websites handling heavy traffic.

The real issues started in the first week of the LPC, a time when students are expected to hand in their proof of registration. It quickly became apparent that only a lucky few had the necessary document, and a flurry of emails from ‘student services’ in the following days reminded everyone without it of the imminent danger of their being thrown off the course.

Naturally, those students without confirmations took the logical step and attempted to call the SRA, secure in the knowledge that such a large and well-respected organisation must have procedures in place to deal with problems of this kind. They were wrong.

Not only did the time spent on hold waiting for an advisor to become available sometimes exceed 45 minutes, when their call was finally answered the worried students were told nothing about why the delay had occurred.

It also turned out that many applications had been approved weeks ago, with the necessary email confirmation ‘just not sent out’. The SRA sent them out with one click of a mouse, once the students got in touch.

For others, though, the problems continued, as they found themselves unable to acquire the ‘academic stage’ confirmation (proof that a suitable qualification had been passed before undertaking the LPC). As it stands now, some students are still waiting for these confirmations nearly two months after the course started, and the College of Law has had to liaise with the SRA in order to stop them being de-registered.

I contacted the SRA press office for an explanation, and was told that the problems stemmed mostly from the implementation of new software meant to streamline the system for students and qualified solicitors alike. They stated that:

“Unfortunately, despite extensive testing, the introduction of the new on-line systems that will ultimately make life easier for all has not run smoothly and we have apologised to all those affected for the inconvenience caused.”

Fair enough. But when I pressed them for a comment on students who felt unhappy with the problems and the possibility that a bad first impression was made in their first dealings with the regulator, I was told that this was a sensitive subject and that input from the top was needed.

I had also hoped that the issues were solely concerned with student registration, but after I had contacted the SRA press office for comment, the result was, yes, you guessed it…delayed.

Cat Pond is currently studying the LPC at the College of Law. Previously she studied history of art, then completed the GDL, and hopes to go on to work for a London firm.

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