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Solicitor qualification – new proposals for a single examination

Solicitor qualificationSolicitor qualification mechanisms are coming under the scrutiny of the SRA.

It appears that the end is nigh for both the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). In an attempt to level the playing field, the SRA intends to replace both. The name of the replacement is the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

So, are we just changing one set of acronyms for another? Let’s take a look at the method behind the madness.

Background and timescale.

The idea for a super exam to replace the existing pathways to qualification has been around for some time now.

Last April, the SRA announced its intention to replace existing routes to qualification with the SQE by as early as September 2020. The new examination has two parts: (SQE1 and SQE2) and will include a stipulation that new solicitors complete a training contract.

However, harmonisation moved a step closer recently when the SRA presented its proposals to the Legal Services Board. The Board. The Board has an obligation to give its decision on the proposals within 28 days.

An SRA spokesperson stated:

“The aim of the SQE is to guarantee consistent, high standards for qualifying solicitors, as well as helping widen access to the profession. We developed our proposals by engaging with more than 10,000 people. This is the next stage in the process, and we look forward to the LSB’s decision.”

Despite the SRA insisting it will guarantee all entrants to the profession “meet consistent, high standards” and put an end to what it calls the “LPC gamble”, the news has raised eyebrows in some quarters.

Structure.

Despite concerns, the SRA is moving things along quickly and is set to appoint an assessment organisation for the super exam. For those mid-way through their solicitor qualification, the SRA says you “will have the choice of which route to follow — the existing route or the SQE — for a number of years.”

Full details of the SQE are still not fully apparent. However, the SRA has proposed what it calls “a possible structure” for the new exam.

The idea is to sub-divide the examination into two parts, with part one significantly cheaper than part two. The parts will be divided by a training contract-style period of learning on the job. This will mean aspiring solicitors yet to secure training with a firm have a smaller financial outlay. This will mean less risk than they do at present with the so-called “LPC gamble”.

The SRA also has plans to introduce more flexibility in defining what a training contract actually is. Experience such as paralegal work, work in a university’s law office and others could soon count towards solicitor training. Under the new approach, the term ‘training contract’ won’t be used and the SRA will stipulate “two years of qualifying legal work experience”.

Both law degree and non-law degree holders will be able to sit the exam. It will also be possible for aspiring solicitors going through the apprenticeship route to qualification to sit it too.

Obviously, the proposals only affect England and Wales, with no such similar plans currently under scrutiny by the Scottish Law Society.

Read the report.

You can find out further details on the SRA’s website by following this link and also in the pdf attachment below.

PDF download: here

369348008-SQE

Mike O’Donnell. January 2018.

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