SRA picks Kaplan to deliver new solicitor super-exam

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By Thomas Connelly on

Eight-year deal

The regulator’s plans to overhaul legal education moved a step closer to reality today, after it selected education giant Kaplan to develop and deliver the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said it will now work closely with Kaplan and other stakeholders from across the legal education sector to develop and test the SQE — otherwise known as the super-exam. Kaplan has been appointed for a period of eight years from the introduction of assessment, which could be as early as September 2020.

Commenting on the appointment, SRA chief executive Paul Philip said:

“We are delighted to appoint Kaplan after a robust, competitive and open process. Its bid succeeded against some very strong competition. We are now another step closer to delivering a rigorous assessment that helps build trust that all qualifying solicitors are meeting the same high standards, regardless of their route into the profession.”

Today’s announcement means that Kaplan — which closed down its UK law school operations in 2016 — will not be one a handful of providers to offer the new SQE prep-course. This will be left to established legal education players including The University of Law (ULaw) and BPP University Law School, alongside a number of newcomers to the UK solicitor-training market. One of the new entrants to the UK solicitor-training market is US state bar exam preparation provider BARBRI. Managing director, Sarah Hutchinson, told Legal Cheek:

“For the first time in over 25 years, the legal profession can be assured that there is a common standard for entry into the profession. However, it is urgent that Kaplan and the SRA publish the detailed exam specification. BARBRI has trained over 1.3 million law graduates to prepare for the US state bar exams and we’ll utilise our exam preparation expertise and innovative learning technology to launch an SQE preparation course in 2020. The BARBRI SQE prep course will give confidence to aspiring solicitors and their employers that they can succeed in the new national exams.”

Welcoming the decision, ULaw’s Pro Vice Chancellor (External) Peter Crisp told Legal Cheek:

“It is our hope that this appointment will now lead to the publication of a clear timetable for the assessment implementation, which will provide students, the profession, and ultimately the public with certainty and confidence in the SQE.”

Andrew Chadwick, dean of BPP University Law School, told us that “after several years of uncertainty, the profession finally has some clarity, at least as to the identity of the assessment organisation. It is a start.” He continued:

“However, let us be realistic — the SQE establishes a common qualifications floor for the profession but it does not begin to construct an adequate ceiling. Our clients have made it abundantly clear that they require trainees to be equipped with specialist legal knowledge, competencies and skills far in advance of the minimum specified by the SQE. The appointment of Kaplan as assessor, welcome though it is, doesn’t change that reality.”

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Kaplan’s tender success is a significant step forward for the regulator as it moves towards realising its super-exam dream.

Last year, the SRA unveiled plans to replace the traditional routes to qualification — i.e. the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) — with the SQE. The new route will be divided into two parts (SQE1 and SQE2) and will still require wannabe solicitors to complete a training contract, albeit on a more flexible basis than previously.

In March, the Legal Service Board, an independent body responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers across England and Wales, provisionally approved the SRA’s super-exam framework. It did, however, keep the regulator sweating: extending the time it had to reach a decision not once, but twice.

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