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Negative responses to solicitor super-exam consultation to see proposal modified

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There may be life in the old LPC yet

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The battle to replace the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC) with a solicitor super-exam has taken a new twist — after most of the responses to a consultation on the matter came back expressing concerns about the plan.

Of the 250 responses received, 200 raised some degree of unease about the proposals — which would see vocational legal training rolled into some law degrees and also allow non-graduates to qualify as solicitors directly under a new centralised assessment — while the other 50 were described as “mixed”.

This news has left the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in reflective mood, having come out in favour of the super-exam last year and campaigned for it ever since.

The regulatory body’s executive director of policy, Crispin Passmore, told journalists in the wake of a board meeting on the consultation results that he “would be amazed if it doesn’t change our mind on some stuff”.

And this morning the SRA’s training and education chief, Julie Brannan, indicated that the body could now focus its energies on developing the centralised assessment element of the super-exam plan, which would do away with the current system of assessment by individual LPC providers.

Speaking exclusively to Legal Cheek, she said:

We are very grateful for all the responses we have had. This is a genuine consultation and we wanted as much feedback as possible. We have had a lot of written responses, but the dialogue we have had with stakeholders has also been important. We have held drop-in events, face-to-face meetings, a webinar and of course worked with Legal Cheek. This was after we had developed proposals with educationalists during a series of meetings last year with various providers.

Brannan continued:

The responses have highlighted a number of areas for us to explore further, which is exactly what we were after. What has been interesting is the support for the idea of centralised assessment from a number of respondents, for example the Law Society.

The concerns highlighted about the super-exam — or Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) to give it its full title — are wide-ranging, but a common theme is that it would undermine the status of the solicitor title. There is also fairly widespread anxiety that it might not cut costs to the extent that the SRA hopes and could even prove a backward step for diversity. Many of the responses are from practising solicitors, legal academics and law firm graduate recruiters.

The professional sub-groups having their say included the Association of Law Teachers, the City of London Law Society and the Legal Services Consumer Panel. All were pretty negative about the proposals. But perhaps most worrying of all for the SRA was this response from the Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL), who — despite their low wages and high training costs — haven’t been convinced by arguments that the current legal education system needs to change. They stated:

YLAL has concerns about the potential effect the proposed changes will have on social mobility, diversity and the accessibility of the profession, and feels that the SRA has failed to provide sufficient information about the anticipated cost of the SQE.

Students have been less vocal in their feedback via the official consultation channel than they have been on forums like the Legal Cheek comments section and our Facebook page, where there has been strong support for anything that would reduce the huge higher education costs they face. But this support seems to have waned slightly in the wake of a strong anti super-exam campaign run by the Law Society.

At our recent super-exam event two weeks ago hosted by King & Wood Mallesons — at which the SRA’s Brannan spoke — there was an approximately 50/50 split in the audience of 40 students on whether the proposals were a good idea.