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New solicitor super-exam could prevent ‘less affluent’ students entering the profession, warns Junior Lawyers Division

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Despite the SRA claiming qualification will be ‘substantially cheaper’

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The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has expressed concerns that a new regulator-backed solicitor super-exam could prevent “less affluent” students entering the profession.

Bryan Scant, who was elevated to the role of JLD chair last month, has told Legal Cheek that if the super-exam gets the green light, there is a real danger that “only those with sufficient financial means will be able to qualify as a solicitor”.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) first mooted the super-exam — or Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) as it’s officially known — in December 2015. Combining elements of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), students, who will need to pass this new assessment prior to qualification, will have the option to attend a law school-operated prep course to boost their chances of passing.

Calling for further information regarding how “students from less affluent backgrounds” could fund the prep course and exam, Scant — whose division represents over 70,000 young lawyers, paralegals and law students across England and Wales — said:

At present, as the LPC is compulsory to qualify as a solicitor, banks offer specialist loans to assist students. If the preparatory course will not be compulsory, the JLD is concerned that these loans will be unavailable to students, and only those with sufficient financial means will be able to qualify as a solicitor.

The JLD’s concerns come despite the regulator’s assurances that its new proposed route to qualification will be “substantially cheaper” than the current system. Back in November, SRA education director Julie Brannan exclusively told Legal Cheek that the super-exam will represent “real value for money”, but declined to give estimates regarding costs.

If given the go-ahead the new exam format will be introduced in just under two years time. As it stands, a wannabe solicitor could be forking out as much as £15,500 for a place on the LPC at a London provider.

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