In defence of the solicitor super-exam… an NQ’s perspective

Avatar photo

By Ben Brownscombe on

The SQE will stop the LPC gamble


In the week the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority’s (SRA) consultation into the controversial Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) ends, criticism of the proposed super-exam is snowballing. Though the SRA is hopeful the planned changes to legal education will make qualification more affordable, commentators are concerned the SQE will lead to a dumbing down of lawyers. But is it all bad news? Newly-qualified (NQ) solicitor Ben Brownscombe doesn’t think so. Here is his defence of the solicitor super-exam.

The SQE has been covered extensively in the legal press throughout its consultation phase. A quick search-engine review demonstrates that many within the profession are yet to be convinced as to the benefits of the proposal. On this basis, one naturally begins to form the opinion that the proposal may be unnecessary and, crucially, will fail to deliver on the change that is needed. Scratch the surface, however, and it becomes clear that the SQE gives rise to some genuinely positive changes which, if implemented correctly, could have far-reaching benefits.

Having recently qualified, I have seen first-hand some of the problems with the current system. Almost any NQ lawyer will tell you that, for a sizeable number of students, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) is a lottery. When studying the LPC, I was placed into a teaching group with around 12 others, the vast majority of who had not secured a training contract and were privately funding their studies to the tune of around £12,000. For students without a training contract, most of who will already be laden with significant debt, the LPC represents an expensive gamble.

This begs the ethics-driven question of whether the profession should promote a system where students are charged substantial fees for a vocational course in the knowledge that a large proportion of them will never actually use it. Some aspiring solicitors even end up falling out of the profession altogether because they become disillusioned with the elusive search for a training contract.

In getting rid of the LPC, the SRA will be bringing students a step closer to the real substance of any lawyer’s qualification process — the work-based experience. Of course, in its place will sit stage one of the SQE but if the SRA delivers on its promise that fees will be low, it will mean that students will not be required to fork out thousands of pounds before having done all that they can to obtain a training contract.

There are numerous other benefits. Some detractors of the SQE have commented that it may dilute the quality of the profession. On the contrary, it is often remarked that the training contract fail rate is remarkably low with minimal oversight as to the level of training afforded by firms to trainees. In introducing a centralised exam such as the SQE, it will be incumbent upon firms to adequately prepare their trainees in the knowledge that to not do so could greatly affect the firm’s standing and its retention rates.

Further still, and perhaps most importantly, the SRA will be in a position to gauge the level of each trainee entering the profession by reference to a universal standard. It is hard to think of anything more rigorous than that.

On the day the SRA’s consultation ended, Legal Cheek polled its Twitter followers on the proposed SQE. Over three quarters said the SQE is a bad idea.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek’s careers events, sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub here.