The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is pushing on with its ‘super exam’ proposals, launching another consultation following mixed feedback on the education reforms. However it said yesterday (3 October) it would delay implementation another year as it develops its plans.
The SRA proposed the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in December 2015, a common assessment to replace existing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) exams by making all prospective solicitors taking the same assessment before qualifying.
The plans, which underwent an initial consultation, were met with considerable opposition, particularly from academic groups. According to the SRA’s summary of the consultation: ‘A majority of respondents thought we should continue to require some form of prequalification legal work experience, and that we should specify both the time period required and the competences to be developed. Most respondents were also in favour of us recognising a wider range of work experience beyond that obtained in a training contract.’
The SRA also found most respondents felt that the introduction of the SQE in 2018/19 was too soon and more time was needed to develop and introduce it and to make sure it is right.
This prompted further independent polling which now shows that a substantial majority of English and Welsh people are in favour of consistency in assessment for trainee solicitors.
According to a ComRes poll carried out in August 2016, almost four in five (79%) of English and Welsh adults say that ‘everyone should pass the same final exam to become a solicitor’, and 76% say that ‘they would have more confidence in solicitors if they all passed the same final exam’.
Addressing previous concerns in terms of the exam being available to non-graduates, the SRA now confirms that only those who hold a ‘degree, apprenticeship or equivalent’ can sit the new exam. Aside from a common set of practical and theoretical assessments, the proposed new system would see candidates being required to have a substantial period of workplace training.
SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: ‘We think there is a strong case for the SQE and this consultation spells it out in more detail. We have taken on board a wide range of views and gathered more evidence, and I would like to thank the many organisations that have helped us to refine and develop our proposals.’
Macfarlanes senior partner Charles Martin told Legal Business: ‘We are particularly pleased to see that they include a requirement for qualifying legal work experience and a degree or equivalent qualification[…] The proposals will help to maintain the quality and standing of the solicitor’s profession and will also help to support wider access to it in our view.’
However writing for Legal Business back in March former president of the University of Law Nigel Savage questioned the SRA regulatory framework behind these proposed changes as potentially ‘no longer fit for purpose for the expanding range of skills and competencies needed within a legal environment’.
The new consultation will run until 9 January 2017.
Read more in the comment piece: ‘Comment: Time to move on – Savage argues legal education is falling behind the realities of the profession’