SRA proposes new solicitor qualifying examination
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has announced a controversial shake-up in the way in which solicitors will qualify in the future.
The plan is to implement a new standardised system for assessing trainees where everyone wanting to qualify as a solicitor would undergo the same professional assessment based on the competences required to do the job. This would, the SRA say, ensure consistent high standards of entry into the profession, providing confidence for the public and employers.
The SRA fel that at present, the current system does not measure all candidates on a consistent or comparable basis, with solicitors qualifying in a number of ways. Trainee solicitors are ultimately signed off as competent to practise at the end of their training contracts at their law firm. But, again, there is no mechanism to compare standards.
The proposed new assessment – called the Solicitors Qualifying Examination – will be based on a new ‘competence statement’ developed by the SRA – a benchmark defining what all solicitors should be able to do competently in order to qualify and to practise. Pre-qualification workplace experience will be an important part of qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales and is likely to form part of any new system.
Whilst the SRA believes this new approach will help foster greater diversity in the profession by ensuring all candidates meet proper standards regardless of the pathway they take, the Law Society is not so sure. In a press release issued on 11 December, they have warned that the proposals may prevent some of the best talent from entering the legal profession. This could jeopardise the international standing of the solicitor qualification and, over time, affect the quality of legal advice, which is valued by clients.
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers commented:
‘Our view is that the removal of approved routes to qualification will cause uncertainty for those wishing to enter the profession and will most negatively affect those who have least access to good sources of information and advice. This could promote nepotism and result in wealthier students being favoured especially as there may be no restrictions on the number of times an assessment could be retaken and no time restrictions on the completion of all elements.
It is likely that these proposed changes would disproportionately affect less advantaged students because they would find it harder to gain funding for non-compulsory courses and will still need to prepare for the assessments in some way. It is also likely that crammer courses or other such provisions will arise, which will intensify the cost.’
A consultation on the subject has been issued by the SRA. Entitled “Training for Tomorrow: assessing competence” the consultation will run until 4 March.