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Exclusive: City law firms push to bring entire ‘two-part’ super-exam before training contract

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It’s beginning to look a lot like the LPC

There is a movement afoot to push together the two exams that will make up the proposed solicitor super-exam so that both can be taken before a training contract, Legal Cheek can reveal.

This watering down of what is meant to be a revolutionary two-part solicitor exam — intended to be taken before and at the end of the training contract — would leave the end result looking an awful lot like the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

A consultation document on the Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) states the examinable parts of this proposed route to qualification will be split into two parts (SQE1 and SQE2). Regarding the two parts and their relation to the requirement of recognised work-based training, the paper — produced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) — states:

“We expect many candidates will take SQE stage 1 before their work-based experience, and SQE stage 2 at the end of their work experience.”

Note the loose wording. This has left the door open to the SQE2 potentially being scheduled for after the student has done just some of their training contract — or maybe even just a vac scheme.

At a recent super-exam event, an SRA representative was asked about the requirement of work-based training. Enquiring about its length, the questioner asked: “Could this period be as little as one day?” The SRA spokesperson replied: That is “open to discussion”.

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Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director of education and training, failed to unequivocally rule out this possibility as she told Legal Cheek:

“The SQE is about trust in consistent, high standards. It is also about a more level playing field, where everyone has a fair chance of qualifying. We want to tackle the problem of the LPC gamble, where people have to bet £15,000 on a career without a training contract. A two part SQE stops that. A more flexible approach to work experience should help deal with the training contract bottleneck. Yet to confidently do that, you need a clear, independent check that candidates have developed the skills you would expect from effective work experience — SQE 2. We do not have any plans to combine part one and two of the SQE.”

Specifically on when the SQE will be taken, Brannan added: “SQE 2 will assess whether candidates can demonstrate they have the competences required for safe practice as a qualified solicitor. It will not be set at the current LPC standard, but at the qualified solicitor standard. We expect candidates will need to have had good quality work experience in order to develop their competences to the necessary standard.”

City law firms are concerned by the disruption the new centralised solicitor exam may cause to their qualification process. Currently, law firms welcome LPC graduates into their firms as trainees knowing they have completed and passed their compulsory education. As a firm, you wouldn’t want to pay a trainee for two years, only for them to fall at the final hurdle and fail the SQE2.

On the other hand, as a student without a training contract is it fair that you have to front up £15k for the LPC without any guarantee it will pay off? A genuine two-part SQE would at least mitigate self-funding students’ financial risk.

Exam providers are currently bidding to put on the SQE. The tender results are expected to be announced in the spring.

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27 Comments

Anonymous

But how much will the SQE cost? Surely this is just shifting the bottleneck along – allowing people to get qualified (self-funded) only to be an unemployed “NQ”

Why not just offer LPC places only to those who have TC offers?

Anonymous

Surely this is the most sensible option?

Not Amused

Indeed.

BPP Shareholder

How will I afford my third BMW if we did something stupid like that?

ULaw Shareholder

Introduce a useless MA programme like us. Planning to use the proceeds to buy a summer home in Marbella.

ULaw investor

Or just flog a worthless online-only course and claim it’s a proper MBA qualification. Laughing all the way back to the bank!

Anonymous

This is how the Irish system works purely as an FYI.

You do an entrance exam to the LPC equivalent on the 8 major subjects (think SQE1) but you can only enrol on the the course once you have a TC.

Not saying that system is better or worse than here but does at least prevent those who are unlikely to get a TC being burdened with significant debt.

Freemarket Fighter

For a moment there, I thought I had woken up in Soviet Russia. Can it Karl Marx. and stop trying to regulate the free market – if free peoples wish to take the GDL/LPC then they should not be restrained by your heavy touch communism.

ULaw investor

Quality bantz. 7.8/10.

Tired lawyer

Shifting the bottle neck backwards to work expirnece more like- and as for this making it fair stuff, I have one question: who finds it easier to get work expirence? People with money and private education or the poor people who find 15K a put off?

This entire idea is awful and poorly thought through. You’ll just have Mommy and daddies little prince/ princess working for free for two years and qualifying while poor kids can’t even show that they go 86% in the LPC and that they are better than the lazy Eton lot with 50’s across the board.

Anonymous

I think around 35% of Eton cohorts each year get into Oxbridge.

Sound super lazy.

Tired lawyer

There are of course lazy and hard working nights Eton educated people- I was having a go at the lazy one who coat on family connections.

Secondly, don’t be so defencive.

Thirdly, while getting into Oxbridge is difficult, it isnof course easier from Eton than most places, so I wouldn’t say that it was evidence of exceptional hard work for all of them. Most yes, but my all.

We have all met Eton to Oxford students who shouldn’t be let sharpen a pencil- so I wouldn’t even say they all got in for intelligence.

Anonymous

From your level of written communication, I can tell you did not attend either institution..

LPC graduate

Interesting – the same ‘lazy’ Eton lot I had in my class all smashed their exams and got 80+ averages / Distinctions across the board.

The ones who either failed or got bare pass marks were the few clueless ogres from faraway lands studying the LPC on an overseas student visa.

So much for rich kid privilege methinks…

Tired lawyer

As I said above, there are hard working Eton graduates but there are also lazy ones who I was referring to- and I will guess you where in a class where everyone had a TC to go to? They tend to produce higher marks.

May I also point out that, exam technique and being taught to pass exams (as friends who went to Eton and Harrow say was a big advantage) continue to help throughout any exam but not practice. Resulting in good grades and little knowledge for the lazy ones.

That doesn’t necessarily mean your friends- who from what you say are hard working.

Anonymous

So you readily admit that there are hardworking and lazy students at Eton? Why then draw the crosshairs at just Eton students? Isn’t it true of every single institution? Leave your bias at the door and forget the idea that every single person who had a less privileged back ground should be handed a TC because they had a hard knock life.

Anonymous

This is looking ever more like a well intentioned idea (bringing law school fees down is a very good idea) that has gone horribly wrong. The SRA look weak on this, bending over backwards to please everyone so that their ideas have now been so watered down that what they are creating is basically a centrally assessed LPC. They should either stick to their principals or do nothing.

Anonymous

…. and in the old days, when Nigel Savage actually taught law instead of trying to make money, we used to have a centrally-assessed LPC/LSF. Funnily enough, we all had to study pretty much the same syllabus as the SQE is advocating (although it’s brought itself bang-up-to-date with the 19th Century by now excluding employment and family as exam subjects)….. Apparently, we also had pretty duff solicitors too.

The SRA have become hopelessly confused and compromised about how to achieve the objectives they started out with (greater access to all, reduced costs, enhancing standards etc. etc.) when confronted by the practical realities. It has had to be pointed out to them that telescoping courses into shorter durations means that many students can’t work alongside the courses to subsidise them hence diversity and access are compromised.

Anonymous

Nigel Savage is the man to blame here. He must have trousered millions for himself from turning the College of Law into a private equity owned “University”.

It’s a scandal, and it shouldn’t have happened.

Anonymous

Those retired teachers needed their pensions though

Anonymous

Law firms in Britain don’t want people studying whilst they’re working. Unlike the Big 4 here (or law firms in America, who hire people before they’ve “passed the Bar”), they won’t allow people to take time off to study, and get used to working and the way things work in their office.

Why?

Because they’re miserable stingy kunts.

Anonymous

Even if they did, they would still expect all the work to get done. It would be as pointless as bank holidays, where you just have to do the 60 hours work in 4 days instead of 5.

Slave drivers.

Anonymous

Study while you work, isn’t that called an apprenticeship?

Anonymous

No. That went out with the law of master and servant in the nineteenth century.

In twenty first century Britain, trainees are entitled to time off for study.

Anonymous

Shambles.

Agreed on the working while studying point – there is no way you could do that.

Anonymous

In Northern Ireland you can only sit your solicitor exams if you have a training contract. It is the only way to ensure that the market isn’t being overcrowded and people aren’t getting saddled with debt with little prospect of a TC. Even I you have to self fund, you know that you have a TC and will qualify.

On a different point I take issue with some forms of ‘for profit’ education such as Uni of Law and BPP. Investors in these companies are driven towards reducing costs when their main aim should be educating young people and preparing them for practice. These institutions all know that they are flooding the market with what is now a £12k token qualification.

I would have the LPC as an extension of university or part of a 4 year LLB LPC like some universities do.

Anonymous

Because trainees at city law firms, working often up to 2000 billables a year, need to take on more pressure as they look at qualification…

Surely, the common sense approach to this whole LPC/SQE problem is to either: (a) cap the charges on the LPC; and/or (b) have a stricter admissions process to the LPC/SQE that would require a written offer from an SRA registered law firm. Removes the gamble, and protects students.

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