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SRA gets green light for radical training overhaul as board set to vote

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has received approval to push ahead with far-reaching proposals to overhaul legal training, with the results of a 12-week consultation set to be voted on by the board, which is also expected to vote to end to the current system of continuing professional development (CPD) points.

The SRA on Friday (25 April) published its response to the consultation on changes to education and training regulations, which included proposals to remove the need to complete training under the terms of a training contract specified by the SRA; remove complex exemption arrangements (in order to open up different pathways to qualification); and remove the requirement for development of skills in both contentious and non-contentious areas.

On the overhaul of the current training contract, the SRA received 36 responses, with support from 26 (72%). Fourteen percent were against the proposal and a further 14% supported the proposal only on the condition that the SRA required training regulations to be incorporated into contracts between the trainee and the training provider.

The Law Society, so often pitted against the profession’s regulatory arm, said: ‘In principle we have no problem with the removal of the specified SRA contract requirement. Our chief concern is that the protections, remedies, and rights available to trainees are not reduced, and that the trainee’s status as an apprentice is not called in to question.’ The City of London Law Society added: ‘We feel that withdrawing from this area is consistent with modern regulatory practice.’

The Law Society also agreed with the SRA’s proposals to remove complex and inflexible exemption arrangements – a proposal that received support from 94% of respondents – commenting: We strongly agree that there should be greater flexibility in routes to qualification in the interests of equality and diversity and social mobility.’

The SRA clarified: ‘This proposal is not intended to change any of the outcomes for the current pathway to qualification. Applicants will need to demonstrate how their qualifications map onto existing outcomes.’

The plans follow the publication of the Legal Education and Training Review report in July 2013 and the SRA’s October report ‘Training for Tomorrow’. Billed as the end to the historic ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to solicitors’ qualification, proposals centre on moving to an outcomes-focused approach to legal education with less input from regulators on how to achieve competence and ongoing training.

The latest changes will now be recommended to the SRA board on 21 May. If the board agrees, they will still be subject to Legal Services Board approval and then reflected in a new version of the Handbook on 1 July.

SRA director of education and training, Julie Brannan said: ‘Overall, the proposed changes to the regulations were welcomed by most of those who responded, although in some cases support was on the basis that the SRA would provide clear and accessible guidance. We will be publishing guidance at the same time as we implement the new rules on 1 July, if approved.’

Meanwhile, the SRA is currently considering the responses to a now closed consultation on CPD points, which is largely expected to bring an end to the current ‘tick box’ exercise under which qualified solicitors certify they have undertaken the mandatory number of hours of training, with no real focus on quality.

The board will also consider these proposals at the meeting on 21 May and Mark Solon, managing director of the legal division of the Wilmington Group, said: ‘The new regime will end CPD being seen as a distress purchase done in the run up to 30 October with solicitors skulking off at the coffee break after signing the register. It looks like solicitors and their firms will now need to prove competency rather than attendance and all will need to learn how to evidence this or face disciplinary action for non-compliance. We have to wait for the full details but I think the new regime will improve the continuing education of the profession.’