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Bridging the skills gap within the legal sector

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BPP’s head of business development, Liz Ritter, considers how best to prepare lawyers for practice in light of the SQE, ahead of LegalEdCon tomorrow

The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) has opened up new and exciting opportunities for training providers and law firms to consider how to best prepare the next generation of lawyers for successful and fulfilling careers in practice.

Excellent knowledge and understanding of the law remain paramount. Aspiring solicitors will need to pass a challenging set of centralised assessments, covering a wide range of legal knowledge and practical skills including drafting, legal research, and case matter and analysis.

Through BPP’s strong links with the UK’s leading law firms and the wider legal profession, we have researched and consulted with many employers over the past three years to find out: how can we best prepare lawyers for practice?

The answer

While the SQE focuses on a critical but narrow set of practical legal skills, employers are conscious of the gap between the skills assessed as part of the SQE and the broader skills and behaviours that are required in practice. As such, employers are looking for candidates who are able to demonstrate these skills and behaviours as well.

What is the gap?

A successful solicitor needs to truly understand the needs of their clients and be able to work with them to find innovative solutions to their issues. It is critical that those wishing to qualify as a solicitor develop core skills and knowledge such as:

Collaborative working

Teamwork, using empathy and emotional intelligence to build and maintain strong relationships with colleagues, clients and stakeholders, the ability to collaborate and manage cross-disciplinary teams and projects, and to work effectively with people with diverse skillsets and opinions.

Creativity and adaptability

Keeping an open mind and a growth mindset, understanding how to apply creative thinking to improve the ways in which legal services are delivered.

Digital competences

The ability to use and take advantage of a range of digital tools in a world that increasingly relies on technology for effective and efficient business practice.

Find out more about studying the SQE at BPP University Law School

The work of the O Shaped Lawyer group has highlighted that these skills (and others) are demanded by clients of law firms. Therefore, it is essential that legal trainees develop such skills in order to succeed in the workplace. However, such competencies are touched upon only lightly or not at all in the SQE assessments.

How can the gap be bridged?

Much of this skills development will happen in the workplace, through qualifying work experience or apprenticeships for those who will be following the new route to qualification. Both paralegal and solicitor apprenticeships have grown exponentially since the introduction of the trailblazer programmes in 2016, showing the benefit of work-based learning, while attracting more diverse talent into the legal profession.

While employers ensure that their junior lawyers have opportunities to develop these competencies in the workplace, law firms are also looking to legal training providers to lay the foundation for these wider sets of skills and behaviours.

Through extensive collaboration with our clients and partners in the legal sector, BPP University’s Law School has created programmes that ensure students are able to build and strengthen core skills and behaviours during their studies.

Students engage in experiential tasks that utilise client case studies within a virtual law firm, allowing them to reflect and practise skills in the context of real-world scenarios in an environment that simulates life in practice.

They experience collaboration through live workshops, giving and receiving constructive peer-to-peer feedback, sharing ideas and perspective and using collaborative digital tools to deepen understanding and find creative solutions to client problems.

Aspiring lawyers can also take advantage of BPP’s award-winning pro bono centre to help them gain unique legal experience, as well as the opportunity to enhance these essential skills in order to further boost their employability.

Preparing for practice

The launch of the SQE in September 2021 is a massive change for the legal industry. It is crucial that education providers continue to drive the highest standards of education to ensure that students are not only best prepared for those new assessments, but also for practice, so law firms can continue to attract the very best in legal talent.

Liz Ritter is head of business development at BPP University Law School. BPP’s head of outreach and student recruitment, Jonny Hurst, and head of development, Mark Keith, will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2021, a two-day virtual conference, taking place on Wednesday 19 May and Thursday 20 May, along with BPP students and future trainee solicitors. Final release tickets are available to purchase.

Find out more about studying the SQE at BPP University Law School

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