New solicitor super-exam could be rolled into undergraduate law degrees to save students £15k

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By Thomas Connelly on

Proposed replacement for the LPC to be incorporated into LLB


The new solicitor super-exam could form part of an undergraduate law degree — saving students thousands of pounds.

Backed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the proposed exam — or Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE), to give it its official title — will, if enacted, combine the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) to create a one-stop shop professional skills exam. Unlike the current LPC, it would be centrally assessed.

But while the super-exam has received widespread backing from students in Legal Cheek‘s comments and on our Facebook page — largely on account of cost savings — concerns have also been expressed about the possibility that LLB graduates would effectively be forced to meet the competency in core legal principles requirements twice under the super-exam’s GDL element.

Today SRA education and training chief Julie Brannan moved to respond to those concerns, telling Legal Cheek that she expects preparation for the super-exam — if approved — to be rolled into some undergraduate law degree courses. Brannan explained:

Our proposals for a Solicitors Qualifying Examination could mean that we no longer require students to take particular qualifications, such as the LPC. Universities would be able to introduce new courses, for example, a three year law degree which included preparation for the SQE. A student who took this route would not need to do a separate LPC.

In other words, undergraduate law students could reach the training contract stage in just three years — and save themselves £15,000 LPC fees in the process.

With the current legal education system dating back to a time when university was free, the super-exam would provide a cheaper way of operating more in tune with indebted students, the SRA reckons. Now that an LLB is priced at £9,000 a year, the costs involved in qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales are certainly huge.

Brannan added:

We have modelled a number of different possibilities, and all of them are cheaper than the current way of qualifying through doing an LLB plus LPC plus a training contract.

Legal Cheek understands that conversations are already underway at some top university law faculties about how the super-exam could be incorporated into LLBs. The more business-savvy could see it as a way to stand out in a highly competitive legal education market.

But don’t expect the more traditional universities to adopt the change. With many Russell Group unis receiving applications well in excess of their LLB enrolment quotas, there will be less of an incentive to break away from the legal education norm.

With the super-exam far from a done deal, and only receiving official SRA backing last month, there are many hurdles to be cleared before the first set of students sit the centralised assessment — which would be open to not only law graduates, but graduates of other disciplines and even non-graduates. The aim is to launch it in 2018.

However expect plenty of opposition from the legal education establishment. Speaking at a Westminster Legal Policy Forum last month, chair of the Association of Law Teachers Rebecca Huxley-Binns described the super-exam as “nothing new”, while raising concerns that its regulation by the SRA could be burdensome and expensive.