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How one law school is preparing for the biggest shake-up to legal education in a generation

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Ahead of the Future of Legal Education and Training Conference on 22 May, Andrew Chadwick, dean of BPP University Law School, discusses the SQE, technology and the opportunities ahead

📸 Andrew Chadwick, dean of BPP University Law School

It has been almost two years since the solicitors’ regulator confirmed plans to scrap the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) in favour of a new centralised assessment. With another two years to go before the first sitting of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), how is one of the largest providers of legal education in the country preparing for the changes ahead?

Speaking to Legal Cheek, ahead of BPP University Law School’s headline appearance at next month’s Future of Legal Education and Training Conference, Andrew Chadwick, dean, says preparations for the new regime are well and truly underway.

The first signal came last May when BPP suspended its undergraduate offering. At the time, Chadwick stated the move was “to focus on designing programmes for the future” — a sentiment echoed by law schools up and down the country as they look to adjust their curriculum and course design to prepare for the biggest shake-up to legal education and training in a quarter-century.

So what’s the latest with BPP? The law school has introduced a senior leadership team to review its full course offering in response to the SQE, explains Chadwick. He continues:

“We are developing programmes for future solicitors: all will include an element of SQE preparation to ensure students are prepared to pass the regulatory assessments and also to ensure that they are fit for legal practice. The market will evolve and will have different needs; we will be catering for all parts of the market.”

BPP

The SQE is likely to increase the level of competition among providers. Currently, LPC providers set the assessments and award the qualification which requires substantial resources and infrastructure. But the SQE will be centrally assessed, with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) last year selecting education giant Kaplan, which closed down its UK law school operations in 2016, to handle exams and marking in an eight-year long deal. This takes away a considerable barrier to entry to the market for new law schools who may lack the resources to run assessment processes. But does Chadwick welcome this development? He told us:

“A change in regulation, in particular, a reduction in regulation around the SQE will open up the market. Open markets are good for consumers. We are happy to compete in an open market because we have absolute confidence in the quality of our offering.”

Although the curriculum of the SQE will be narrower than that covered by the LPC, the change of regulation has led to a broadening of the debate about what the training of the next generation of lawyers will look like. One key facet of that debate is the role of technology in that training. Given that programmes of education will not be SRA-regulated at all; there will be far greater scope to embed technology into new graduate programmes.

BPP is well-placed to do this. The law school launched a legal tech innovation and design module last September to plug the notable tech-shaped skills-gap on the LPC. It’s set to be a trend that continues, says Chadwick, and the course paves the way for similar future developments. He continues:

“To be conversant with technology is a key skill all future lawyers need and we are looking at how we can embed technology fully into our programmes rather than technology being viewed as a separate module,” says Chadwick, a former litigation solicitor. “We hope to combine teaching with the technology relevant to modern practice and clients to produce a solicitor fit for the 21st century.”

But the SQE is a series of exams; it’s not a course. There is no requirement for students to complete a prep course before they sit the exams which means students could, in theory, teach themselves. On this, Chadwick says:

“The centralised set of assessments will be run in a very specific fashion testing very specific knowledge and application of that knowledge. The SRA is determined that it will be rigorous and I think it is inconceivable to do the tests without having undertaken a full programme of study.”

BPP’s aim then is not just to prepare students to pass the SQE, but to prepare them for future practice. “The responses to the various SQE-related consultations show us that the assessment isn’t really what law firms need from their qualifying work experience (QWE) students. I think many students will need training in much more than the SQE qualification to convince a law firm they can fulfil the role of a solicitor. This training will provide different knowledge and deeper skills than those which will be covered by the SQE. They will need to have practised doing the tasks a trainee solicitor will do in a simulated environment,” Chadwick explains.

For students who may be worried about the lingering uncertainty the final form the SQE will take, Chadwick advises studying the transitional arrangements once the legal watchdog, the Legal Services Board (LSB), gives final sign-off to the new regime. This way the student can work out what the options are: the timing of the last opportunity to take the LPC or the first to take the new SQE.

The testing phase for the new two-part assessment is in full swing. The pilot for SQE1 took place last month, while SQE2 will be piloted towards the end of this year. It’s against this backdrop that Legal Cheek’s Future of Legal Education and Training Conference 2019 takes place. An interactive audience discussion on the practical effects of the SQE featuring SRA education and training chief Julie Brannan, the brains behind the impending solicitor super-exam, will take centre stage at Kings Place, London.

Chadwick, who was in attendance at last year’s Conference, is looking forward to this years. “I enjoyed last year’s programme. I thought it was good to keep the discussion moving. I am very much looking forward to this year’s programme and we are delighted to be partnering with Legal Cheek for the second year.”

BPP University Law School will be exhibiting during the Future of Legal Education and Training Conference on Wednesday 22 May at Kings Place London. General release tickets are available to purchase.

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