Australia’s leading legal training outfit is to team up with a major US player to enter the UK market ahead of a radical but controversial shake-up of the framework for training solicitors in England and Wales. The College of Legal Practice has today (27 November) launched as a new entrant to the vocational training sector to build courses geared to the incoming Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), the biggest overhaul in the UK’s legal educational regime for a generation.
The College – a wholly-owned subsidiary of The College of Law Australia and New Zealand – will partner with US education provider BARBRI on the initiative, an attempt to challenge the effective duopoly of solicitor training in England and Wales. The move is touted as harnessing a more dynamic approach to training under the new regime, which abolishes the requirement for two-stage vocational training to usher in more flexible routes to qualification.
‘Legal education is in a time warp,’ The College’s interim chief executive Nigel Savage (pictured) told Legal Business. ‘It has not moved on to catch up with the way legal services have changed. Millennials want choice, there is increasing technology and there are new business models. These factors are the rationale behind it.’
Currently, students require a law degree (or non-law degree plus a graduate diploma in law) and a one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by a two-year training contract at a law firm. Provision of the LPC is currently dominated by the University of Law and BPP. The new model will drop these requirements. Instead, prospective solicitors need only hold a degree or equivalent, pass a centralised exam divided into two parts, and hold two years of qualifying work experience available from a much broader group of employers.
To provide courses for SQE 1, The College has partnered with BARBRI, which currently offers training to prepare for US Bar examinations, which more closely resemble the format of the SQE. The College, meanwhile, has designed the provision of SQE 2 for BARBRI.
Savage added: ‘BARBRI are the leaders in legal knowledge preparation, and that is SQE 1. SQE 2 is legal skills and we have developed that for them as that’s what The College of Law has expertise in.’
The costs of SQE preparation courses at The College currently remain unclear as providers wait for details of what will comprise the core elements of the exam. Providers also still do not know how much the exam provider Kaplan will charge, with the fee falling somewhere between £3,000 and £4,500. The College hopes that due to its low overheads it can provide learning at a lower cost than incumbents, making full use of online training.
The first stages of the SQE regime will kick in from 2021, despite concerns from many in the profession at the scale of the reforms from the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Supporters of reform argue that the new regime will boost social mobility as well as enabling the profession to tailor legal education around new business models and increased use of technology.
While Savage will oversee the launch, The College has appointed the current head of the law school at University of Roehampton, Giles Proctor, as its permanent chief executive. Proctor has previously taught at Manchester Metropolitan University, Nottingham Law School, Kaplan and University of Law. He assumes his position on 1 February 2020. The College has also appointed former Slaughter and May executive partner Richard Clark and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer chief legal innovation officer Isabel Parker as non-executive directors.
‘We won’t be building great monuments of law schools all over the country, we’ll deliver it to the workplace with one-to-one mentoring,’ Savage concluded. ‘The key thing is making a programme that can help a Clifford Chance on the one hand and an Elevate on the other.’
Legal Business is holding a debate and forum on the future of legal education in central London tomorrow morning, including senior speakers from Pinsent Masons, Clifford Chance, EY, Elevate and the SRA. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org