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Junior lawyer numbers set to rocket following SQE roll-out, predicts Google-backed legal business chief

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Super-exam also tipped as pro-diversity by entrepreneur

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) could lead to four times as many solicitors, Mark Edwards, senior vice-president of Rocket Lawyer, the online legal services provider, said at an innovation conference earlier this month.

Edwards argued before delegates at the conference that: “The vast majority of graduates on the [Legal Practice Course] don’t get training contracts and find themselves left on the shelf. That’s all going to change. They will be able to do paralegal work and supervise paralegal work in-house, in tech companies, in law firms, in retailers — wherever they are.”

Speaking at the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) get together, he said: “In a few years’ time we’re going to see probably four times as many solicitors out there… Then suddenly we are going to be able to help all those people currently not able to access justice.”

If Edwards’ prediction is correct, what does that actually mean in numbers? According to SRA figures, 7,000 individuals were admitted to the roll from June 2018 to the same time in 2019. Though not all people on the roll practice as solicitors (practising certificate-holders are usually around two-thirds of those admitted), if Edwards is right, that’s 28,000 solicitors every year, an increase of 20% on current numbers (there are roughly 140,000 solicitors with practising certificates, according to the Law Society).

In the report in Legal Futures, Edwards is cited as arguing that the SQE is responsible for this “transformative” time in legal services but also mentions the impact of new rules that come in later this year which will allow would-be solicitors to be regulated “individually” as freelancers.

Clearly, he’s a big fan of the SRA: “I think it’s astonishing what the SRA are putting in place here — in an amazing way.”

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Also speaking at the conference was Mary Bonsor, the legal entrepreneur who helped set up F-LEX, the online platform getting LPC students placements at law firms. She argued that the new SQE would: “really increase diversity”. Bonsor said: “At the moment… you have to put yourself through the LPC and be out of pocket at least £20,000, which frankly half the country wouldn’t be able to afford.”

Bonsor, who spoke at Legal Cheek’s Future of Legal Education and Training Conference earlier this summer, sees the potential boon to solicitor numbers in a positive light: “Allowing more people to become a solicitor I think is only a positive thing.”

But the likes of Edwards and Bonsor are at odds with many young lawyers who view the SQE as lowering standards and having a negative impact on social mobility. Just last month, the Law Society’s junior lawyers division (JLD) which represents approximately 70,000 LPC students, trainees and solicitors with up to five years’ post qualification experience, called on a committee of MPs to launch an inquiry into the decision to green-light the SQE.

Current JLD chair, Amy Clowrey, stated in an open letter to the Justice Committee: “[The] 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)”.

Clowrey also raised concerns about a “negative social mobility impact” of the SQE as a result of the cost of taking the exam, likely to be around £3,000 to £4,500.

Speaking to Legal Cheek this afternoon, Clowrey said: “The JLD has been concerned, since the announcement of the development of the SQE, that the bottleneck currently faced by LPC graduates upon trying to secure the elusive training contract will shift to those seeking NQ positions. The JLD brought this issue to the attention of the SRA over 3 years ago.”

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33 Comments

Anonymous

The absolute last thing the world needs… four times as many lawyers, never mind four times as many failed/crap lawyers. There’s too many already!

Anonymous

Can you imagine world without lawyers?

Anonymous

I believe that is called Utopia.

Anonymous

This and the proposed changes to the BPTC is really going to clutter up the bottom end of the professions. I hope there will be enough doc review paralegal gigs to accommodate them all.

K&E Trainee

Brilliant. More wannabe corporate lawyers on the streets.

Davis Polk Trainee

What have we learnt from immigration and mass influx over the last 10 years? It ruins a country and causes economic and social harm. Same applies with the SQE. We don’t need thousands of more failed lawyers. Stop this madness immediately and stick to the LPC/TC model.

Anonymous

Who is Davis Pork?

Skadden Paralegal

Jog on mate…you would give up a left testicle for a TC at Davis Polk.

Anonymous

I am NQ in US firm. Never heard of them.

Take a look at this flog

Really? Never heard of Davis Polk & Wardwell?

Anonymous

Checked – Band 2 and Band 3 in UK capital markets, nothing else of records, does not do contentious. Presumably UK office is quite small, makes sense that never heard of them.

Davis Polk Trainee

We only do mega corporate finance deals. Not interested in Mickey Mouse transactions.

Anonymous

They’re a competitor of Akin Pump, top firms

Isaac

What a stupid comment to make. Thanks to Immigration England would not have won the Cricket World Cup… Thanks to Immigration you would not be eating at asian/indian restaurants helping the economy. Thanks to Immigration you would not be treated by your Pakistani Doctor…. The LPC is outdated & my dog could pass those open book exams. SQE is a good thing overall. I know Solicitors first hand who qualified the traditional route and those who qualified via Ilex route. There is no difference at all. Haters who paid £20k for a useless LPC will be crying a river for sure.

Anonymous

Four times the paralegals!

JDP

I’m getting ready to roll out my red carpet…

Anonymous

4 times as many newly qualified solicitors but no difference in the amount of newly qualified roles available. The number of NQ roles available is set by the market itself not by the number of NQ solicitors.

This will just lead to thousands of unemployed solicitors. if you gain 2 years paralegal experience from a range of paralegal roles at a range of employers and then pass the SQE to qualify as a solicitor it is very unlikely that a large established firm will offer you a NQ position.

The large established firms have already said that they are going to continue to offer formal contracts for 2 years of training. Therefore to get a NQ offer at such a firm you will need to have completed the 2 years formal training at the firm or at another firm which sits in a similair market position.

Anonymous

And why would they? There is no incentive to. Even with the LPC the large firms prefer you to have done “their” LPC

Anonymous

They wouldn’t – thats the point i’m making.

Diversity luvvah

Literally the only thing I’m interested in is how this will affect diversity, because diversity is the best thing ever.

Anonymous

Diversity boxing ticking is such a shitpick, it’s unreal.

Harvard LLM (Corporate Law)

I don’t get the SQE. If you pass it do you automatically become a solicitor? Is this similar to the US system where if you pass the bar exam you become an attorney straight away?

Anonymous

Almost. The only difference b/w the new route and the US would be that the SQE has two separate exams (legal procedure and then practice skills) which can be taken together or separately but must both be passed in order to qualify as a solicitor

Anthony

No. You needa TC or equivalent experience of 24 months which must be supervised by a regulated person.

Eton College Alumni

Anyone who did not go to a private school and Russell Group university should not be allowed to become a solicitor. We need to protect the profession from diversity freaks and feminist bashers.

Anonymous

“If there’s one thing America needs, it’s more lawyers”

Anonymous

‘ Speaking at the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) get together, he said: “In a few years’ time we’re going to see probably four times as many solicitors out there… Then suddenly we are going to be able to help all those people currently not able to access justice.” ‘

Not quite sure how these two things correlate. Are the new solicitors not going to charge for their services?

Sceptical Junior Lawyer

Couldn’t agree more!

Is the plan that all these new solicitors are going to work for free in order to help access to justice? Or is the government planning to magically reverse its cuts in order to fund this new wave of lawyers?!

Anon

Related to supply and demand I suppose — surplus of lawyers means their fees will go down… Nothing to cheer about really.

Access to justice here equates to access to jumped up freelancers who only have experience doing doc review…

Anonymous

Sounds like the SRA only invited along people that agreed with them and were willing to blow their trumpet about the SQE.

Where was the invite to, and comments from, the JLD – who have consistently been challenging this nutty proposal?!

Anonymous

I can confirm, Tescos do not like offering jobs to people with Degrees. People merely become left in state of useless flux.

Syl

I really don’t see why so many people are making a fuss. I doubt it’s going to be easy to pass the SQE and then secure a place at a law firm; so it’s really not upto those interested in it. I think people are worried about it because they had to go through the LPC route and ‘prove’ themselves to get a training contract. I bet if anyone didn’t have a training contract they would be excited to try this.

Future MC trainee

I just sat the NY bar while doing the LPC and if the UK wants to do this, the SRA exam should be at least as hard as the bar, not some LPC level mickey mouse exams. Even then people in the US sit 2-3 times and become mediocre lawyers, just what we need.

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