Exclusive: Regulator backs ‘lengthy transition period’, as lawyers speculate advocacy’s place on SQE
The solicitor super-exam’s transition period could run into the 2030s, Legal Cheek understands.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced in April it would be replacing traditional routes to qualification — i.e. the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) — with a centralised exam called the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
The plan is to roll the SQE out in September 2020, from which point all new graduates planning on qualifying will have to take this exam. However, aspiring solicitors who have begun their legal education, but have not finished it, prior to this date will have a choice about which qualification route to go down for some time after this. This will mainly impact part-time LPC students and GDL students. In an initial SQE document, the SRA said:
The transition of the SQE will take place in a gradual and inclusive way, which enables candidates to choose between qualifying under the current system or the SQE for a number of years.
Now, we’ve been told by sources that the SRA’s “number of years” isn’t just two or three. Legal Cheek understands this transition period may be over a decade, meaning aspiring solicitors part-way through the traditional route to qualification can continue with this route into the 2030s. Brannan seemed to confirm our sources’ sentiments today at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum Keynote Seminar in Whitehall, where she too mentioned the 2030 cut-off point.
When we put this to the SRA, a spokesperson told us:
We have not made a decision on the exact timings of transitional arrangements. We will consult on this later in the year. However, we have been clear that there will be a period where there will be two systems operating in parallel. Our preference is for a lengthy transition period. We want to make sure that anyone who has started the qualification process, before the SQE is implemented, will have plenty of time to complete their training, subject to courses being available in the market.
In other SQE news, Legal Cheek has also been told the fate of the advocacy module may not be as first expected. When the SRA’s plans to push ahead with the SQE were first revealed, a “possible structure” of the super-exam was unveiled.
As can be seen in the picture above, the first part of the SQE, which students sit pre-training contract, mainly consists of substantive legal knowledge tests; the more hands-on, practical skills are reserved for part two. It’s understood this structure is to keep costs down for training contract-less students, as it’s more expensive to put on practical exams.
However, Legal Cheek sources tell us advocacy may, in fact, feature in SQE1, which could potentially push up the cost of this first stage. An SRA spokesperson said:
We have said that we wanted to look again at the approach to an advocacy assessment. We have not taken a decision yet. We will begin working through this detail, making sure we get input from across the sector, once we have appointed an assessment organisation. We plan to have made that appointment early next year.
Watch our exclusive super-exam interview with SRA director of education and training Julie Brannan:
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