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Solicitor super-exam WILL change how big City law firms hire trainees, insists SRA boss

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Comments come in response to suggestion by Hogan Lovells chief that scrapping LPC may not have major impact

The growing consensus that the new solicitor qualification exam (SQE) won’t have much impact on big City law firms was challenged today by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

With big firms mostly recruiting trainees two years in advance on the basis of university module grades, and then sponsoring the cost of their vocational training, it has been noted that scrapping the LPC in favour of the SQE super-exam will have only a minor impact on those who come through this route.

Speaking yesterday at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum on legal education, Ruth Grant, Hogan Lovells partner and board member of the City of London Law Society Training Committee, acknowledged this precise point as she told the audience:

Student performance in part one of the SQE [taken after graduation from university] will mostly not play a part in trainee recruitment.

Grant then went further to state that trainees’ score in the second part of the SQE, which is to be sat at the end of the training contract, “is unlikely to be a major determinant in whether they are taken on as a newly qualified solicitor.” She added that her firm tests internally on a host of other skills.

Legal Cheek understands that many other City law firms feel the same way, and are basically more confident in their internal training than the externally assessed regime that will be imposed on them by the SRA via the new super-exam format from 2020.

But SRA training boss Julie Brannan, who is one of the driving forces behind the SQE, sees it a different way. She is keen to focus instead on the “large amount of new data” that a centrally assessed super-exam will create. In particular, Brannan notes the ability that the SRA will have to create league tables of how students from each university in the country perform in the new test. Speaking to Legal Cheek she explained:

It may be that graduates of some unfashionable universities do very well on the SQE, which would in turn force law firms to ask themselves why they are not recruiting from these institutions in the same numbers as from elsewhere. That’s where you may see the changes.

Earlier on at the conference Grant had spoken about how her firm and others were broadening their trainee recruitment through diversity initiatives such as PRIME, the City law work experience scheme.

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