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Junior lawyers seek to have approval of the SQE overturned

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Letter to Justice Committee aims to skewer super-exam

SQE super-exam students solicitors

The chair of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has written to the Justice Committee seeking an inquiry into the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) decision to approve the new solicitor super-exam.

In an open letter addressed to Bob Neill MP, chair of the House of Commons Justice Committee, Amy Clowrey expresses concern that the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will “be contrary to the public interest”, “not be in the interest of consumers” and “result in lower professional standards”. The SQE will replace both the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) when it comes into force in September 2021.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) plans to replace traditional routes to qualification were approved by the LSB — an independent body responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers across England and Wales — in March 2018. This came despite former criminal barrister Neill urging the legal watchdog to defer its decision for six months, “to enable the SRA’s application to be given more careful scrutiny”.

The JLD of The Law Society, which represents approximately 70,000 LPC students, trainees and solicitors with up to five years’ post qualification experience (PQE), is supportive of a centralised assessment and has been involved in the consultation process but has put forward a number of outstanding concerns. These are “the removal of the requirement to study academic law substantively, assessment by method of multiple-choice question (MCQ) examination, training requiring only ‘the opportunity’ to develop the necessary competencies and sign-off being possible by a newly qualified solicitor who may not ever have met the trainee”.

On the face of it there is a risk, Clowrey continues, that “these changes will lead to a decrease in the standard of assessment and experience necessary to qualify as a solicitor and ultimately a decline in the service provided to consumers (with a consequent deterioration in the reputation of the profession domestically and internationally)”.

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The letter adds that the “unresolved question” of how much it will cost to qualify (and whether loans will be available) have raised concerns about a “negative social mobility impact”. In November 2018, the SRA indicated students will “likely” pay between £3,000 and £4,500 to sit the assessment, with course fees on top of this sum.

Speaking to Legal Cheek, Law Society council member and JLD rep Laura Uberoi said:

“The JLD remains concerned about the lack of detail around, and scrutiny being applied to, the SQE that is due to be implemented in 2021. We are proud that solicitors are currently held to a high standard and that we are becoming a more diverse profession — it is imperative we maintain these qualities with the implementation of the SQE.”

The LSB will have to approve a further application from the SRA before the SQE can be implemented. The JLD requests the Justice Committee holds either “an evidence session” or “a short inquiry” to review the LSB’s approval of the SQE to date before the next stage of the SQE application process.

The SQE will be split into two parts: SQE1 focusing on black letter law and taking the form of a computer-based, multiple-choice assessment, while SQE2 will test prospective solicitors’ practical legal skills such as advocacy and interviewing.

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11 Comments

Anonymous

What a pompous letter

(1)(12)

BodgerNOTBadger

Yup. Note the compulsory nod to the diversity agenda too.

(2)(3)

Anonymous

Is there something you don’t like about diversity then?

(0)(1)

Anonymous

It is nice to see someone standing up for budding solicitors.

Thank you.

(22)(1)

Anonymous

English lawyers frankly aren’t that well regarded.

(2)(11)

Anonymous

You want to work in England?

You can be English qualified – just like New York

After Brexit, you can stick your JDs, cum laudes and your staatsexamens where the sun don’t shine

Off you f**k

(1)(7)

Anonymous

Are you at Pinsent Masons?

(7)(1)

Hmmm..

But we are notoriously more refined and this is precisely why all you see is nuts hanging out when you walk in on us with your spouse.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

I don’t think the academic standards or the testing by multiple choice test should concern anyone too much because it would imply that the current standards are higher when in fact a GDL exists that – if their brochure is to be believed – is mostly assessed by open book coursework (Leeds Beckett). I think rather more concerning is the change to experience requirements although again the status quo is far from satisfactory.

At present, the law is largely running as a closed shop where firms take a gamble on whether someone will make a good solicitor based on the scant evidence they have available. Some firms are so bad at predicting who might make a good solicitor that they even rely on things like GCSE results. They offer a training contract and at the end of it as long as the candidate does a passable job they become a solicitor. Although they may not be retained, they nevertheless become a solicitor and remain so forever more, save for a breach of ethics. Many of us meet these low quality solicitors when we buy or sell a house and try and save a few quid on the legal fees!

Meanwhile, people with the potential to make very good solicitors don’t necessarily get training contracts because they get filtered out at the pre-screening stage. I meet a lot of people like this in my working life because they shift their careers into other areas where a legal education is beneficial and where they can excel including financial services compliance.

To some extent then the change should be beneficial. People can collect their two years experience in a more open competition and those who make it will be those who can compete in the office rather than on paper. However, I feel there is a missed opportunity. It should not be possible to become a solicitor with 10 years experience if the applicant is a bumbling incompetent. The new system is far too liberal about who can sign off an applicant’s work experience.

The SQE 2 exams should be used as an opportunity to independently assess the suitability of applicants in how they perform the job and the only way they can do that is with a rule that the two years experience must come first and that the SQE 2 must then be passed within a maximum period of 1 year. Sign off should be through an interview with an examiner and firms should have no involvement beyond the submission of performance appraisals to the independent board.

(6)(5)

SQExit

If this happens, it’ll be more biblical than us overturning Brexit with another people’s vote.

(4)(0)

Anthony

The JLD’s views should be heard. The SQE seeks to address social mobility and that is laudable, but the bar has been lowered too far at the expense of the public interest.

(4)(0)

Comments are closed.

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