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Legal Services Board delays decision to accept or reject SQE

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Hold-up comes as group representing more than 4,000 legal academics urge refusal

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has given itself more time to make its decision on whether or not to approve the new solicitor super-exam, it has emerged.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) formally submitted its Solicitor Qualification Exam (SQE) proposals to the LSB on 31 July.

The LSB had an initial 28 days to approve the regulator’s blueprint for the new route to solicitor qualification but extended the decision period to 90 days as permitted by the Legal Services Act 2007. A new deadline has now been set for 28 October.

“The SQE application represents a significant change of policy to the framework for admission as a solicitor in England and Wales that requires careful consideration by the LSB,” the extension notice said, continuing:

“It will be necessary for the LSB to make additional enquiries with the SRA so that the LSB may fully understand the impact of the proposed change for both consumers and the profession.”

The LSB’s delay to formal approval is another step in the super-exam’s bumpy journey towards inception.

A group of five legal associations last month wrote a joint letter to the LSB urging it not to approve the SRA’s application. The Association of Critical Legal Scholars, the Association of Law Teachers, the Committee of Heads of University Law Schools, the Society of Legal Scholars and the Socio-Legal Studies Association, which have a combined membership of over 4,000 legal academics, claim the SRA’s proposals “are not justified by any significant evidence that the previous arrangements were endangering the interests of consumers or the public interest”, and are unlikely in practice to be significantly cheaper than the current regime.

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The group take issue with the proposed multiple-choice question (MCQ) format of SQE1. They write:

“A major deficiency in the proposed arrangements is that they are wholly inadequate to ensure that candidates demonstrate the understanding and skills needed to advise clients in those many and complex situations where the law is uncertain. This may be because of gaps or inconsistencies in case law or because statutes require interpretation. These are matters that require the deployment of considerable legal skills in analysing case law and interpreting legislation that go way beyond anything that can be tested in a multiple choice question.”

Further, the letter says the SRA’s work experience requirement forms a barrier to qualification that will “benefit prospective applicants from better connected friends and family networks”, and that non-law grads that pass the SQE are “unlikely to find employment as a solicitor unless they can rely on personal contacts”.

Despite these concerns, the SRA has not wavered in its commitment to the SQE. Commenting on the proposals earlier this summer, Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: “Extensive input, expert and independent review and careful testing means we are confident that we have developed a rigorous, fair, world class assessment for all aspiring solicitors, regardless of background or route taken. The SQE will provide greater assurance for the public and employers that qualifying solicitors have met the consistent, high standards they would expect.”

The two-part national assessment is due to come into force from 1 September 2021 — subject to approval from the LSB. City law firms are preparing for the major overhaul to legal education and training, with 40% saying they have thought about the SQE and that plans are emerging.

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14 Comments

Ray Dalmer

just reduce the prices of the gdl and lpc route and make both options available in the future alongside the SQE.

Thats all we ask for – an option and a choice

thiago

that make’s too much sense, it won’t work.

Me

I see the case for the LPC but not for the GDL. The GDL is a choice of those who decided not to do law and that choice does not merit special fee treatment.

Anonymous

How many of those legal academics know about the practice of law, have they worked in a legal setting? It’s so rich coming from them when the 9 month GDL was undercutting so many LLB students.

Anon

Whereas now, the fact that no one’s required to do a law degree in the first place is an advantage to LLB students?

This is just a badly thought out plan that makes things worse for students, universities, law firms and clients.

Students will be ineligible for student loans for SQE prep courses, they won’t be tested well enough (MCQs – seriously), firms will circumvent the process by running an equivalent of the LPC (widening the gap between those who have training contracts/whatever they’ll be called and those who don’t), and clients will end up appointing incredibly underqualified lawyers.

Anonymous

That’s the thing with the LPC as the student loan doesn’t cover the entire amount, and if you have the money to pay for it upfront you can do no dissertation the gap is widening.

There were students in my cohort doing so much academic research with no practical application of the law. All the coursework and dissertation is meaningless. The GDL crash course had the bare minimum knowledge.

These academics who aren’t practitioners of law are trying to save their jobs from ruin.

Anonymous

The tension is between an exam that does its job, as the LSB points out, and one that might as well be a colouring in exam to appease the social justice warriors who moaned that proper exams raised diversity issues. I’m with the LSB.

Penis Pump

SQE = dumbed-down social justice ploy. ‘Nuff said.

A

It was doomed when the social justice warriors said it was too hard. Apparently understanding complex sentence structures is less important to testing future solicitors than ensuring diversity percentages.

anon

the sqe was meant to open up more opportunities for students to enter their foot into the legal profession but seems like this matter has been forgotten about. Why couldn’t they just keep the idea of two years of qualified experience (instead of relying on one firm for a training contract) with the LPC

Anon

Because shifting the goal posts helps no one.

The reason its hard to get a training contract is because there are a finite number of legal jobs out there and a glut of graduates promised the earth by their LPC provider.

Remove the TC gateway and the same number of jobs exist just with a bunch of qualified people going for them.

What should be in place is more stringent criteria to study the LPC, though that will never happen as the providers make far too much money from the course.

Anonymous

And it does not suit the social justice warriors.

Anonymous

There was a student who did a 4 year degree in Canada, she then transferred to the UK and did the 4 year undergraduate LLB with work placement.

At the back of my mind I wondered what if she had done the GDL at the same place part time over 2 years without any coursework and dissertation as she already graduated in Canada. Why was it not mentioned to her? It would have been 4,125 per year or 9,250 full time.

Instead she did tens of thousands of words of coursework and dissertation in the undergraduate law degree, when she left with a first class honours in law, the law school removed the GDL and replaced it with a ‘Graduate entry LLB’ of two years with the second year having optional modules. In the end these law schools want to make a lot of money by misinforming and mis-selling to prospective students.

The student completed a BPTC couldn’t get pupillage and now is doing a part time LPC whilst working as a paralegal without a training contract in place. I wish it wasn’t so difficult for her, I wish she would have saved a lot of money…only if she had been told.

Sex and Violins

Still absolutely amazed that the obvious solution of scrapping the LPC hasn’t occured to anyone. It doesn’t have any function anymore and the fact people can take it without having a training contract lined up means that too many students apply for it. The NI equivalent isn’t available to anyone without a training contract.

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