News

People are freaking out about plans to replace law degrees and the LPC with a solicitor super-exam open to non-graduates

By on
22

Epic centralised test that would change everything planned for 2018

super-exam

The legal profession is getting increasingly nervous about the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) enthusiasm for tearing up the existing framework for legal education and replacing it with a new super-exam.

The proposed epic test would roll into one the key elements of a law degree, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and even the training contract — and be open to anyone, including non-graduates.

Being centrally assessed — unlike the LPC, which is assessed by the providers — wannabe lawyers wouldn’t even need to attend a law school to study for it, although they would probably at least have to do some kind of crammer course.

So in theory anyone who turned up and passed this exam would become a solicitor.

In practice, most students would probably still do a degree before proceeding to do the super-exam, although law graduates would find some major overlap. The Graduate Diploma in law (GDL), however, would likely be killed off if the plans went ahead, while the LPC would immediately cease to exist. The training contract may continue in some form, but the title of solicitor would probably be awarded at an earlier point.

The latest chapter in the debate over the super-exam — which Legal Cheek first reported on in September — has come over the last few days in a letter penned by the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), the official Law Society group for law students and young lawyers, expressing opposition to the plans.

The JLD’s chief concerns are that the super-exam would damage the prestige of the solicitor brand and create a generation of under-educated lawyers. As a result, it wants to keep the qualifying law degree requirement and the training contract — both of which it rates.

However, the JLD does acknowledge that the LPC isn’t the greatest course in the world. It thinks that it could be done cheaper and quicker, and is concerned about the wildly fluctuating marks that students at different providers get. So it wants the SRA to preserve everything else and bring in a centrally assessed LPC.

In the letter, JLD chair Max Harris writes:

The LPC has been out of date for a while. The number of people who commence the LPC has — for the past several years — been far above the number of training contracts available. There are widely different success rates between institutions, which is odd for a supposedly consistent course. A central assessment for the LPC could and should be considered.

It’s a neat compromise, but the SRA has a long history of smiling politely at the JLD and then completely ignoring what they say.

Often in life with big potential changes like this, the enormity of what is being proposed almost seems too great and people keep plodding along in seeming denial. But make no mistake, this could — indeed, probably will — happen.

While the SRA hasn’t come out and officially backed the proposal, its head of education and training, Julie Brannan, is very much in favour.

In a blog hidden away on the SRA website written back in April, Brannan argues that “introducing a common assessment for all intending solicitors, without specifying any particular pathway to be followed, is the model which is most likely to ensure consistent standards”.

She goes to remark on the lack of consistency of marks between university law faculties, and on GDL and LPC courses, before reflecting:

We don’t really understand what the differences in these rates mean. Better or worse teaching? More or less able students? Or different standards? A common professional assessment could provide a substantial measure of protection to consumers of legal services that all solicitors had been assessed to the same, rigorous standards, enhancing the reputation of the profession both domestically and internationally.

Nothing the SRA has said since suggests any softening of resolve, although it insists that it has “not yet made any decisions about the future training of solicitors”.

A full consultation to decide on the new framework for trainee solicitors to be implemented from 2018 is due to open next month.

Legal Cheek is hosting a discussion about the changes, with Julie Brannan and some young lawyers who have qualified through alternative routes such as the “paralegal shortcut”, next month. Apply to attend here.

22 Comments

Lord Harley of Bollocks

A centrally assessed exam open to everyone would need to be a series of three hour papers with a pass mark of at least 80% for each in order for the profession to maintain any credibility whatsoever.

The Americans have a similar system but still require you to have a law degree before you’re eligible to sit it.

If the SRA must go down this route they should at least require a law degree before you can even sit the exam.

(40)(2)

Anonymous

Although my understanding is that in the US, law degrees are exclusively undertaken after having already completed a non-law undergraduate degree. The US system is not an exactly transposable one.

(5)(1)

Proudboobs

A system designed to prevent another Lord Harley would be most welcome.

(15)(1)

Jason Francis

Why move to the this system when a whole new wave of training centres will offer intensive teaching for an advantaged few at extortionate rates.

Why not move to a medical style system whereby undergraduate study, the LPC and a TC phase are merged and able to be funded by SLC. This would truly open access to the legal profession to all, regardless of financial status.

This wishing to move to a career in law after a degree could always follow the proposed exam route

(19)(1)

Really?

There is only two reasons why anyone would: “freak out” on hearing this: 1. There is concern at just how many non-graduates may pass the ‘super exam’, thus creating a different set of concerns, and or 2. those who have already paid their way through the graduate process will be very disgruntled at having paid for a process that there is no longer the need to.

(10)(2)

Yes, really

3. concern over falling standards by lowering the drawbridge

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Somebody has to be the gatekeeper to the ‘solicitor’ title. At the moment, it’s law firms. In the U.S., it’s law schools (more or less).

Where is the bottleneck under these proposals? Any proposal without one risks watering down the value of the qualification.

(0)(0)

Kuzka's Mother

This would be a complete disaster.

One of the things that sets the UK legal profession apart is the fact that we have a 2-year training period – 2 years of supervised on-the-job training. In the US, someone takes the bar exam and suddenly they’re a lawyer. As most of us can attest, the academic side of learning is very, very different from the actual day-to-day realities of the profession. How on earth do they think they’ll convince us that they can cram the academic side of the LLB/GDL in with the practical sides of the LPC and TC into a single exam? How will cramming for some massive exam provide the same quality of learning as supervised work as a trainee? In the US, many more savvy clients demand that their lawyers do not charge any time on their account spent by first-year associates, and fair enough – they’d essentially be paying for their on-the-job training.

I thought all solicitors WERE assessed by the same, rigorous procedures – the LPC is virtually identical at every institution, as is the PSC, and theoretically the SRA is supposed to overlook the training that training license holders provide. I’m getting the impression that all this regulation is too much for them, and this is an easier way to do it – I guess it was too much to expect the Solicitors REGULATION Authority to actually work hard at, y’know, regulating the profession. Am I to believe that this great, equalizing force that is this super exam will render all university graduates equal in the eyes of the public? Do you seriously expect us or anyone else to believe this?

Not to mention that it will have the effect of flooding the market with professionals, the flow of which was, until now, regulated by market forces through the training contract system.

(26)(2)

Anonymous

SRA is taking a sledgehammer approach to the failing LPC. The JLD compromise seems best;

1) some form of academic law degree (undergrad law or GDL for those who want to convert)
2) centralised assessment as a benchmark for assessing competence in academic and practical skills (and an opportunity to identify talented lawyers studying at less prestigious unis)
3) vocational training: training contract or other on-the job training

Gets the balance right of the important things a lawyer needs:
– academic understanding of how the law fits together and how it generally works;
– actual/current ability which isn’t assessed solely by what you were like when you were 17yo and applying for unis;
– practical training and ability; and
– increasing specialism at a practical level

(13)(2)

Anonymous

Bring it on.

I will make my career suing these new entrants for professional negligence.

Kerching!

(11)(5)

Anonymous

You must be the pride of your firm. Sad!

(2)(0)

Not Amused

One of the reasons that regulators are universally incompetent is that they are effectively able to implement whatever random thought occurs in their heads on any given day. The whole illusion of ‘consultation’ is a joke. When you combine this with lower than average pay and low job status, you attract less able people to work as regulators.

That is a perfect storm for random idiocy.

All they need to do is to copy the accountants. The ills of the current system are that the LPC and GDL are prohibitively expensive for most normal kids. So just copy accountants. Allow kids to take graduate jobs after finishing their degree. Then make it the employer’s role to train them. Intersperse the training period with nationally set and standardised exams. Easy.

Instead of just finding a system that works and copying it (which is what any sane or normal person would do) what we will get is the random car crash of implementing (at great cost and disruption)what an idiot regulator thought up in the bath last week.

(20)(1)

Anonymous

We have something similar in Ireland to replace the GDL, but of course we still have a standard LPC equivalent

(0)(3)

Chris Law

I believe the change discussed would be a good thing.

First, the current system has a lot of waste. Whether you have an Oxford BA in jurisprudence or some other school , at the end of the day its how you perform. Permitting more people to consider this route would also be cost effective: it is increasingly costly to complete education (BA/LLB), then a GDL and/or LPC. It really limits the access for applicants and doing away with the requirement will allow more people to consider this as a possible career choice.

Second, I would go further: there are many individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds and even smears on their record. The current approach by the SRA and Bar Standards Board is incredibly restrictive. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply for instance – that needs to change. There are over 9 million British citizens with some type of stain on their record.

Third, I would suggest people stop referring to the US system because (1) they dont know what their speaking about, and (2) it is incredibly costly. In this regard, several U.S. state jurisdictions (remember the states control bar admission there) allow people to qualify as full lawyers without a law degree. Copying a full US style system would require enormous amounts of money: a BA in the USA costs on average $100,000 to $200,000 (without any support), and a three (3) year law school would cost another $150,000 to $240,000. By the time many lawyers graduate, they have half a million dollars worth of debt and some of them can’t even qualify because the local Bar deems them a risk because of their amount of debt. That’s not a good model at all.

Open and broaden the legal profession and stop acting like its all about credibility. It is about experience. You don’t hire an associate day 1 or look at their degrees – its about their experience in the end and you cant have experience without being let in to the profession.

(7)(3)

US Grad Brah

You’re pulling numbers out of your ass bro. I studied at UC Berkeley and my degree cost nothing even close to $100k. Epic fail.

(2)(6)

US Grad Brah

Hey US Grad, it costs $50,000 per year for an international student to study in the US at schools like NYU, Harvard, etc. It may cost less for locals, but even for locals its dependent upon the financial aid available from the school and FAFSA, which bases aid on your family’s income. Thanks Brah for playing – I also have a first U.S. degree before I did an LLB, LLM and MSc in the UK (and my entire UK education cost less than my BA in the US).

(5)(1)

Anonymous

That’s a lot of tuition fees. You should thank your parents.

(3)(3)

Anonymous

Agree; but not do far off! 200$K here. Hopkins, Chicago, Stanford !

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Thanks for waiting 5 weeks to post that, bro.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I Agree; but not do far off Though 200$K here! Hopkins, Chicago, Stanford !

(2)(0)

Anonymous

The proposed Super Test just shifts the problem of standards. Some universities will simply change their courses to focus on passing the Test rather than teaching law effectively to set up students to be good lawyers.

The result will still be inconsistency in the profession, those that have received a well-rounded legal education, and those that were trained to just pass the test.

(3)(7)

Anonymous

The impact of this on the teaching of law (the ‘academic stage’) at University is of real concern. Its not hard to imagine why the SRA might think that there is little value in learning about law except to enter the legal profession(s), an ignorant wider public means more need for the professions expertise. Law graduates however enter many careers and wide university law curricula is necessary to underpin the employability needs of a wide range of professional and commercial endeavours. If Universities respond to the super-exam by trying to professionalise its training output so as not to lose its appeal to wannabe lawyers (many of whom change their mind during a degree) this value would be lost. The change would effectively undermine the teaching of law to a wider audience (particularly in the post-92 universities – with the most diverse student bodies who benefit greatly from engaging with the empowering language of law and understand more than most about the impact of law in its wider social and political context). If they are required at an earlier stage to commit to a particular career pathway (or are effectively excluded from it because of poor A-levels (no apprenticeship) or lack of money (no university + crammer)) then so much for widening diversity in the legal profession.

(6)(1)

Comments are closed.