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Solicitor super-exam could ‘devalue’ and ‘dumb down’ the law

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Legal establishment comes out against plan to scrap LPC and open firms to non-graduates

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Legal big-wigs have spoke out against the proposed solicitor super-exam, claiming it could “devalue” and “dumb down” the profession’s image.

Suggesting the exam “risked damaging the profession’s standing”, the Law Society’s chief executive, Catherine Dixon, highlighted concerns over non-graduates being able to sit the profession-wide entrance exam.

Taking to the pages of the Society-owned Law Gazette earlier this week, Dixon wrote at length about the proposals in an article dramatically entitled ‘Regulation: The end of our profession?’.

If the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) proposals are given the green light, the centralised assessment would effectively be an amalgamation of the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC). The exam, that would have to undertaken by all those wishing to qualify as a solicitor, would controversially also be open to those who have not attended university.

At the risk of LLB students being examined twice on core subjects, the SRA indicated last month that the exam could be incorporated into a standard undergraduate law degree.

Currently, those wishing to become a solicitor without having obtained a degree first have to follow the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) apprenticeship route. With a relatively low student up-take, coupled with the route to qualification taking over six years, this path isn’t deemed a threat to solicitor standards.

However, with the super-exam proposal gaining pace, and potentially offering a non-graduate fast-track to the profession, the solicitors’ representative body is gearing up for a fight.

Claiming the proposed regulatory changes would “devalue” the solicitor qualification, Dixon argued:

The SRA’s consultation on entry may result in solicitors not even needing a degree to qualify, which has the potential to damage both the profession’s reputation, and the envied global status of England and Wales as a centre of legal excellence and jurisdiction of choice.

Dixon claims that if the SRA-backed super-exam gets the go-ahead, it would be in direct contrast to other professions. Citing teaching and nursing as careers that require a degree level of education, the society boss fails to see why the legal profession should be any different.

Dixon’s comments signal a major u-turn by the Law Society with regards to its position on non-graduates entering the profession.

Rewind to 2013, and it was happy to jump aboard the apprenticeships’ bandwagon. In the wake of government support, then then president of the Law Society, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, said:

Alternative routes of entry into the legal profession are essential in order to enable new entrants to gain qualification through a modularised and work-based learning approach, since the costs of education and training through graduate routes continue to rise.

Despite this shift in position, Dixon has plenty of support from other members of the legal establishment.

Anthony Bradney, a legal academic and professor of law at Keele University, has also raised concerns regarding the new proposed exam format. In his a report, entitled “Dumbing Down the Law”, Bradney suggests that smaller firms would be in the firing line if the proposals were approved.

Claiming that larger corporate outfits could still market themselves on the back of the City brand, Bradney argues that it would be the high-street players that would struggle due to their heavy reliance on the title of solicitor. Bradney also notes that the bar has no plans to let people without degrees qualify as barristers.

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