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City firms’ horror at plan to let people with no law degree or LPC qualify as solicitors without doing a training contract

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Wisdom of regulator’s commitment to inclusivity questioned

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The might of the City of London’s finest law firms are lining up for battle with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) over a proposal that could massively dilute the prestige of the solicitor brand.

To the alarm of top global megafirms who rake in millions in the capital partly thanks to the esteem in which the English legal profession is held, the SRA is considering a new route to qualification that would allow people to qualify as solicitors without completing a qualifying law degree or the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Under the radical plan, the training contract requirement would also be waived for these non-graduates.

So, with the right on-the-job training basically anyone could call themselves a solicitor.

On one hand, this seems progressive — after all, who uses much of what they learnt at university and law school (which of course cost a lot more than they used to)?

But on the other, scrapping all the traditional hoops that wannabe lawyers have to jump through would leave the English legal profession looking rather flimsy in comparison to its counterparts in other countries.

In the US, lawyers must complete a four year liberal arts degree followed by a three year stint at law school. OK, so American law graduates don’t do training contracts and can practice straight out of law school, but their seven years of academic study more than makes up for this.

In Australia, another country without a strict traineeship requirement, time spent at law school is also much greater than on these shores, while in Germany aspiring solicitors have to do a whopping nine years of study.

As such, City of London lawyers feel justified in arguing for the preservation of the training contract. In a response to the SRA, issued via the Law Society, one Square Mile chief summed up the mood, writing:

In the international sphere, UK lawyers are already considered less academically trained than other lawyers. If the SRA’s proposals go ahead, you are totally undermining the position of English law as a qualification. If you take away the training contract, what are you left with?

Legal Cheek caught up with one of these lawyers, Skadden’s Allan Murray-Jones, who stressed that he and his City law pals weren’t against initiatives like Trailblazer apprenticeships and earn-while-you-learn degrees that cut costs for students. Rather, Murray-Jones says that they just want to ensure that solicitor training continues to be of a sufficient length to main credibility. He explained:

Mayer Brown and ULaw’s combined degree and work programme is an excellent development. With it taking place over the course of six years there is clearly no need for a defined training contract to take place within that. Government-backed Trailblazer apprenticeships will also offer great opportunities for firms outside London to reduce training costs. What we take issue with is shortening the necessary period of training to an extent that is too great.

The SRA has not yet given its backing to the proposal to relax training requirements — although it has already allowed a handful of solicitors to qualify via its new “equivalent means” route (dubbed the “paralegal shortcut”). A final decision will be made after a formal consultation expected in December. But it is a measure of how concerned City lawyers are about the regulator’s mood that they have gone on the offensive at this relatively early stage.

In response to the move, SRA education and training boss Julie Brannan commented:

We have not yet made any decisions about the future training of solicitors and all contributions to the debate are helpful. We are pleased that firms welcome the clarification around standards for solicitors and have expressed their cautious support for a centralised assessment.

7 Comments

Anonymous

Rewind 30 years when Articles were fashionable…

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Anonymous

Fashionable = required

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Anonymous

However, they were discontinued as it was found that standards were low/ non existent due to mostly family connections gaining you a place to do articles according to my father who was a articled clerk after graduating from Dowling said the quality was shocking as were most of the barristers at the time…

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Section 60

The SRA/Law Soc let Alan Blacker, fake Lord Harley the comedy solicitor onto the roll and gave him Higher Rights too. So which bit are they intending to relax further?

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Anonymous

The one problem with that statement other than its more than likely libellous is
1. The SRA have not sanctioned the said individual so I would suspect his bona fides check out and he seems to still be practicing so pray tell what are your thoughts there my dear jump on bandwagon individual… Standards have already dropped as can be seen from all the nastiness emanating from many proffered lawyers on legal cheek

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Anonymous

I worked as a paralegal for 2/3 years before I started my training contract. I am currently in my second seat, yet considering to qualify through the equivalent means route.

I agree that in theory this new development may mean that some unexperienced fellas are able to qualify but this is not the case in practice.
If you look at the ‘equivalent means’ application, it is very detailed and the requirements are many. Actually, comparing both routes (save for the difficulty in finding a training contract) the new route is actually more difficult.

The paralegals that have qualified already through this route had to prove that they gained the necessary experience and that they have done work similar to the work that a trainee solicitor undertaking a training contract would do. This is not a burden that traditionally trained prosective lawyers need to undergo. Under the traditional route, trainees only need their principal to sign them off at the end of their contract and the SRA would not assess their training but simply rely on the principal’s declaration.

There are trainee solicitors that tend to do much more administrative/secretarial work than legal work. Such experience would be insufficient to qualify through the equivalent means route. Moreover, commonly I hear complaints that trainees obtained training contracts for reasons other than merit. Whether it is because they play rugby or attended some school that the firms likes. Therefore, the new route allows a smaller margin for discrimination – at least when it comes to qualifying.

Last but not least, I do not think that the US training is better. Yes, US students may need 7 years of education before embarking on a legal career. But If it is accepted that a four year non-legal degree is purely a requirement and is unnecessary, then the academic stages of the UK and the US are the same 3 years law degree + 1 LPC/Bar exams. Yet, UK lawyers benefit from a further two year (supervised) practical experience before advising members of the public. In the US, someone who has never seen the courtroom can represent a client within 4 years of their first law lecture! This is not better than the UK system – and honestly academia is important but it does not really make a good lawyer – practice does! A first in History/Geography never made anyone a better lawyer, so what is the point.

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ron pollard

sorry for spelling error smiles

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