New solicitor super-exam risks creating ‘tiered’ legal profession, independent report finds

But study hopeful exam will help improve diversity

An independent report has warned that the introduction of a solicitor super-exam may “quickly” cause a tiered legal profession.

This is because “some legal employers will give continued (or possibly increased) currency to traditional pathways” to solicitor qualification, most notably the well-established undergraduate degree, Legal Practice Course (LPC) and training contract route.

The study — which has been compiled by charitable policy association The Bridge Group — goes on to say that “high performing candidates” who have completed “traditional” education have been recruited into law firms for many years. From this, it could be inferred that law firms may be wary of recruiting lawyers from new, non-traditional backgrounds.

The proposed super-exam — full name the Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) — was first unveiled by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in December 2015. If introduced, the exam could well sound the death knell for both the LPC and the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) in favour of a centralised and, fingers crossed, cheaper route to qualification.

With the LPC setting 2017/2018 students back more than £15,000 at some London-based providers, you might think a cheaper alternative would be welcomed with open arms. Yet some responses to the SRA’s plans have been frosty.

Take the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), whose chair, Bryan Scant, told Legal Cheek:

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.

Now, The Bridge Group has highlighted some further concerns. As well as fears about the emergence of a tiered system, the report states the proposals:

[W]ill make the routes to qualification harder to navigate, especially for those students without access to good advice.

However, the report also contains many positives. It reads:

The proposals are highly likely to increase the number, and broaden the range, of training providers in the market, and provoke new models of training including online provision. Wider range of choice is… an important opportunity to support diversity, since it will enable students to chart more flexible pathways. Increased competitive pressures are likely to be introduced by the SQE, with an expectation this will drive down costs, potentially lowering this financial barrier for trainees.

Julie Brannan, director for education and training at the SRA, responded to the report by saying:

While our proposals to introduce the SQE are not a magic bullet, we would hope they can contribute to a more diverse profession, through addressing some of the barriers within the current system and creating a more transparent legal training market.

Read the report in full here:

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

10 Comments

DWF Trainee/Slave

The partners are introducing Windows 8 to our system and I’m pretty sure my human rights are being breached.

Also, it’s very likely that the specialist loans will still be available after this revamp.

(8)(1)
Adam Deen

Sorry, a bit off topic, just wondering how you got managed to get your TC at a magic circle firm? Thanks.

(5)(1)
Blacker the Sequel of the Prequel

Truth be told, I have already completed this super exam. It’s not for the faint of heart let me tell you!

I did it at “Platform 9 3/4 At Kings Cross Station College” and I was top of the class receiving a triple first with cheese.

I also did the super bar course and the super SyLex B-Tec diploma in legals.

Headnote: I’m pretty much the legal mind of Britain and the Commonwealth and space.

(5)(2)
Anonymous

Well as long as it boosts diversity then who cares about standard and service delivery. It’s not like lawyers are really that important, I mean they don’t defend the oppressed in society, or conduct the transactions that keep business ticking over, or anything else that is serious.

(7)(1)
Anonymous

I believe no one truly likes change and, those that believe this is a bad idea are generally the ‘old guard’. They fight to save their prestige. The SQE will open up the market and create a system where two people can practice but have qualified in a different way. The thing is, surely, every employer will prefer to hire those which have gone through their qualification route the old way, rather than the new…

I genuinely struggle to see what the issue with the SQE is, it is not like we do not have incompetent solicitors…

(2)(3)
Gijon

You don’t know that. It is actually very easy for highly incompetent people to cruise through the LPC and a training contract. I do not have enough fingers and toes to count the idiot lawyers that I know (some of whom I would consider friends). Not all rockstars rock.

(6)(0)
Anonymous

The thing is, if the LPC costs £15,000 these days, and the proposed new exam costs £25,000 to sit… surely the LPC / traditional route is going to be cheaper?!

(6)(0)
Anonymous

We already have a tiered profession now CILEx parade around looking for NQ positions whilst spitting blood that at the most basic level they aren’t solicitors and will not be treated as solicitors.

All the while calling themselves “lawyers” knowing they have to in order to stop clients seeing them as the lower tier.

(1)(4)
Anonymous

I note a previous comment saying the solicitor profession is already tiered, but it goes much beyond just the Cilex issue. Where you qualify and what area of law really dictates your career (mostly income) potential.

Can you ever become a partner at Freshfields if you start out as a corporate solicitor in a medium regional firm? What about those who want to do PI/Clin Neg law? I always see MC/SC/US solicitors brushing them off at university alum and general law networking events. Even in my firm (regional/national) I see our corporate team give condescending attitudes to our PI/Clin Neg team from time to time (and they bill more!).

Long story short; another tier isn’t going to make that much of a difference to the various nepotisms and biases already in the profession. If anything, it will give a chance to those who don’t fit into the cookie cutter mold of the assessment centres to call themselves qualified lawyers, and their ability will dictate if they have a future career or not. Will they become MC partners? Likely not, but neither will 95% or more of their current trainee cohort.

(5)(1)

Comments are closed.