Ahead of his appearance at LegalEdCon next month, The College of Legal Practice CEO Dr Giles Proctor discusses the impact of the SQE and the power of collaboration
The College of Legal Practice (CoLP) has always been a legal education provider with its gaze fixed firmly on the future. The UK spin-off of Australia’s largest law school, The College of Law Australia, has placed innovation at the heart of its work since it entered the UK legal education and training market in 2019.
Now, as law students across the UK are getting to grips with the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), introduced in 2021, the dust has settled enough to ask how these changes are reshaping the way training is provided to junior lawyers.
The regulatory change instigated by the SQE provided an opportunity to rethink the whole process of qualifying as a solicitor, Proctor explains, adding: “The whole reason we [CoLP] came into being was to address the new SQE regime.”
“What does it mean to qualify?”, he asks. “Now that we are outside the old, regulated training contract regime this one simple change has revolutionised everything”, he says, “students can get qualifying work experience (QWE) before completing their exams or study part-time and earn whilst they learn. The whole system is more flexible.”
In the two years since the introduction of the SQE in 2021, CoLP has been quick to embrace the feedback that comes with this transition. “We’ve learned that the SQE1 exam is very different from most exams students have previously encountered,” Proctor explains.
The SQE1 exam is purely multiple choice with 360 questions over ten hours. “It’s about scenarios,” says Proctor. “You’ve got five options. And it’s really what option best applies the right legal principles to the scenario you’ve just been given. It’s about understanding the legal principles.”
SQE hopefuls take note, Proctor advises that “the students that do well in the SQE tend to be those who work regularly and consistently through the materials”.
“We’ve designed our offering from scratch”, continues Proctor, who acknowledges the SQE by itself is just an examination. This meant that in designing a comprehensive training course they needed to build a whole series of modules to cover the practical training needed to secure and complete a training contract. So, alongside the requirements of the SQE curriculum, they incorporated holistic legal business and ‘O-shaped’ lawyer modules, to help students prepare for the workplace.
Having always been an online provider, legal tech sits at the centre of CoLP’s educational programmes. “One of the biggest tech innovations for us has been making sure that our tutors and supervisors’ time with the student is not dominated just by faceless distance learning,” Proctor affirms. “We may be virtual but we’re not remote in any sense, we’re right next to our students in terms of that one-to-one interaction,” he continues.
CoLP is known to recruit tutors and supervisors who are also still practising solicitors. Proctor tells me this deliberate approach ensures students receive the most relevant and up-to-date teaching. “Who better to deliver this practical knowledge than someone who has at least got one foot — if not both feet –still in practice,” he explains.
“We design our courses, not from the starting point of what you need to cover in an academic subject, but actually, from asking what ten things would a supervisor want their trainee to be able to do. That way the learning becomes much more relevant to the student,” says Proctor, ahead of his appearance at LegaEdCon in London on 18 May.
When it comes to what law firms want, Proctor is quick to emphasise how unique their needs can be. For example, he says, “Browne Jacobson is the number one firm for social mobility in the UK and therefore is really interested in investing in people. Clarke Willmott is a successful firm that embraces the O-shaped lawyer, so they want their students to do that module. Then you’ve got Reed Smith, for whom we’re building an elective programme and working very closely to support the firm’s knowledge management lawyers to build relevant programmes for them, rather than just off the shelf.”
Proctor is also keen to highlight CoLP’s recent collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University, an institution where he once studied to gain his PhD. As a non-law grad, he describes ‘stumbling’ into law, after a family member advised him to go and work for a law firm on an unpaid three-week trial. “I always think of that when I talk to students,” he reflects. “I tell them ‘Don’t worry if initially you do something that doesn’t work out’ — you need to be open to change and be open to thinking about what really floats your boat.”
And what does the future hold for CoLP? “We’re thinking about how the landscape looks now,” Proctor muses. “The SQE has become firmly embedded and by 2025/26, there will be no other route to practice. So, I think our focus for next year is assisting firms to think about the longer-term impact on their training programmes — because of course if you start training your new lawyers in the new regime and skill them up properly, you will hopefully see that benefit washing through into your trainees and into your senior associates,” he concludes.
Dr Giles Proctor will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2023, Legal Cheek’s annual future of legal education and training conference, which takes place in-person on Thursday 18 May at Kings Place, London. Second release tickets are available to purchase.
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