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

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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:

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