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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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12 Comments

Not Amused

Oh good. That’s what we need as regulators – dogmatic politicised weirdos who not only fail to listen to, but also directly contradict the profession they purport to regulate.

I must say, this whole system of off balance sheet public sector workers accountable to no one has really proved to be an outstanding success and not at all like an unmitigated cockup.

(17)(2)

Anonymous

I think you’re missing the point of an independent regulator – they are perfectly entitled to contradict the view of the profession/ industry they regulate.

E.g. energy companies say they are justified in raising prices but Ofgem say not or pharma companies say a particular line of treatments are safe (like thalidomide) but the EMA decide otherwise.

Generally, regulators should, and do, consider the views of industry players but the extent to which regulators respond to any concerns raised depends on whether the industry bothered to respond to any consultation that was carried out and how well framed their points are.

(7)(4)

Not Amused

On that logic, which I assume comes from a regulator, everytime a regulator does something stupid the fault lies with the victim (the regulated industry or the public) for either: not telling the regulator to not do stupid things, or not explaining to the regulator why the thing is stupid in a sufficiently clear manner that even a regulator can understand.

To believe such a twisted ideology would mean a country full of regulators who are idiots, free to do stupid things and never accountable for their failures. I appreciate that is the country in which we currently live. I am merely proposing we adopt an alternative.

(5)(3)

Anonymous

Regulators are accountable to elected governments and subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. So they can’t just cock up and move on (e.g. FSA).

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Blah blah blah blame it on the regulators!!!: NA in a nutshell

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Anonymous

This will absolutely change how firms recruit, and it will also change the length of tenure of graduates in law. We will see (hopefully) more career changers from other professions too.

(2)(6)

Anonymous

Absolutely not what will happen, but I applaud your optimism nonetheless.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I think that one of the things the SRA should be focusing on is providers of whichever course we end up with selling candidates on a dream that they’ll all be high-flying city lawyers and that having a 2:2 from a poorly ranked university isn’t in any way a barrier and convincing them to part with £10-20,000 in fees and expenses.

At the same event (which I attended), the HoLo partner also made the point that the market is saturated with hopeful students, and there simply isn’t room for all of them in the profession. The only panel member who said anything at all about managing student expectations was a lady from a paralegal regulator, which I thought was laudable, and it was disappointing to not see anyone else taking that stance.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

I think a lot of the perspectives given here are from lawyers in practice or law students who aspire to be in practice. I work for a bank rather than a law firm and I would point out that whilst there are more than enough people with legal training who want to work in practice, there are not enough people with legal skills to meet the demands of industry. The way barristers, solicitors and legal executives must currently be trained is creating a bottleneck to the detriment of organisations like my employer.

By way of example, compare the legal profession with accountants. In accountancy, the ICAEW creates a similar bottleneck of ACAs by insisting that its students gain 450 days work experience from an approved employer. They turn out some absolutely fantastic auditors and tax accountants but nowhere near enough for the demands of industry and none who have grown intimate with a particular business in industry. However, this bottleneck has been addressed by bodies like ACCA and CIMA really upping their game in the quality of the education their qualifications provide and industry can meet its needs by training some of its accounting workforce in house.

At the moment, we can’t really do that with our legal professionals. CILEx almost provides a viable option as they have the loosest experience requirements but even theirs are too prescriptive for the hybrid legal/financial roles we want our employees to do. We can also hire from industry to an extent but not in the numbers we need and there is always a period of adjustment as new recruits familiarise themselves with our business.

The SQE could be a game changer. Law firms might quite rightly want their new hires to have an academic legal background and I think the legal market will have to adapt to a world where there is no right set of qualifications to be a good solicitor. However, for my employer we can give people the legal education they need without an inflexible degree and in roles that are more diverse than those currently required under training contracts.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Wishful thinking it is

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t know why firms talk about diversity in the for of minority groups, it makes no difference as you can’t tell the colour of someones skin or sexuality on the basis of an online application unless state it is state to be so.

Diversity should be seen in the form of trying to recruit those with lesser academics into the slightly more reputable firms, rather than shops like MW paying paralegal 16,500 across the board and requiring them to have the LPC.

Look at Tunde at Doughty Street – 2:2 from met and still making it.

Just because you have a 2:2 from a Poly isn’t indicative of being a good lawyer. It’s perfectly plausible to attend a poly for a number of reasons such as location, circumstance etc, entirely unrelated to your academic performance at A-Level.

(1)(2)

Oh Sir Walter Really

No doubt designed to open up the profession, but in reality will have the opposite effect with 15 year old public schoolboys cramming for it. Personally at age 15 I was fearful of soggy biscuit and my sexually ravenous dorm prefect, but those halcyon days are behind me.

(0)(0)

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