Exclusive video interview: Legal Cheek speaks to the regulator’s director of education and training
Julie Brannan, director of education and training at the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), has told Legal Cheek that aspiring lawyers contemplating whether to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) now or wait until the super-exam is introduced have some “hard thinking to do”.
The new Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) is due to be rolled out in September 2020, meaning those that graduate this year, next year and in 2019 will be faced with a choice: qualify under the old system, or wait it out and qualify under the new one.
There are a whole host of reasons why someone might choose to wait, perhaps the most notable being cost. The SRA insisted throughout the consultation process that the SQE will be cheaper than more traditional routes to qualification.
And the SRA doesn’t seem to be budging on this one. Speaking to Legal Cheek’s Katie King, video embedded above, Brannan reiterated that prices will come down because the super-exam splits up the cost of assessment and cost of teaching, plus shorter, more integrated prep courses will help keep fees down too. Though no exact — nor ballpark — figure was offered, Brannan did note:
It’s really, really important to us that we get value for money in this process.
The apprenticeship levy will help those going through the earn-while-you-learn route, while law degree providers stand in good stead to help alleviate costs for graduates. She said:
Universities are looking at whether they can incorporate SQE training into their degree. If they can do that, then that does take away the whole of the cost of the LPC, which is a substantial saving.
So, which system should you qualify under?
If you’re about to graduate, Brannan suggests weighing up the options based on factors including whether you already have the offer of a training contract and how up-to-date your legal knowledge is. As for people graduating in the few years before the SQE is rolled out, adopt a wait and see approach.
“Don’t make snap decisions too soon,” Brannan said, “things will have moved on a lot by the time you get to 2019, so wait and see what things look like then and make your decision at that point.”
Legal Cheek also spoke to Brannan about some of the concerns surrounding the SQE, one being that cheaper courses equals more qualified solicitors, but not more solicitor jobs. Will the SQE end up making the legal job market even more competitive?
On this, Brannan answered:
What the SQE is all about is making sure people who pass it are safe to practice… This is not about having a quota for the number of people who get through, it’s about making sure people have the right standard.
The profession is growing and has grown. When the LPC was introduced there were about 60,000 solicitors, we have almost 140,000 solicitors at the moment with practising certificates.
But who’s to say the profession has reached its peak? There is not a fixed number of jobs but there is still unmet legal need, Brannan tells us. The SRA needs to make sure there are people out there to service that.
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