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ULaw comes out swinging against solicitor super-exam as SRA consultation ends

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Big changes to legal education ahead

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The University of Law’s (ULaw) CEO has rounded on proposed changes to legal education which she thinks will leave trainees with such insufficient knowledge law firms may have to run additional courses to fill the gaps.

Speaking about the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and its plans to replace the ‘LLB -> LPC -> TC’ route to qualification with a centralised assessment, ULaw’s Professor Andrea Nollent said:

Although we don’t oppose the concept of centralised examinations, we disagree that the proposed SQE will be a robust and effective measure of competence.

The SQE is only at the consultation stage and there are a lot of details still thin on the ground, such as the extent to which the exam will be open to non-degree holders.

What we do know is that, in its proposed form, the SQE is split into two parts. One exam will be taken by aspiring lawyers before the training contract commences and the other at the end of the training contract. Part one is set to be the cheapest, and part two more expensive as it will require the testing of practical skills.

Clearer still is the momentum behind its introduction: to make qualification more affordable. Speaking exclusively to Legal Cheek, SRA education director Julie Brannan lamented the current high cost of the LPC, especially when studied in London, and said the proposed super-exam would be “more affordable”.

And while Nollent had said ULaw welcomes “the desirability of widening participation in the profession”, she doesn’t believe that the proposals will achieve its aims. She added:

[T]he SQE will be too superficial in stage one and too narrow and restricted in stage two to properly assess the competence needed for trainee or qualified solicitors to safely act for the public. In particular, the loss of elective subjects means that the level of understanding of key practice areas will inevitably be lower under the SQE regime than the current one. Firms will find their trainees will not have the subject knowledge of the area they are working on, nor the same level of skills in applying knowledge to practice areas that current trainees have.

Nollent continued:

We anticipate that many law firms will require additional courses to be undertaken before the period of work-based learning commences to make up for the competence gap. These courses will add to the cost of training, and potentially end up costing students more than the current LPC.

The SRA’s consultation into the SQE ends today, so expect more details soon.

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