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

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By Alex Aldridge on

Epic centralised test that would change everything planned for 2018


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The LPC has been out of date for a while.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.