Industry update – SRA announces confirmation of the Solicitors Qualifying Examinations

The days of legal qualifying programs such as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC) are numbered as the Solicitors Regulatory Authority this week announced the confirmation of the long debated centralised qualifying exam for would-be lawyers – the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

The merits of the new independent assessment are generating extensive discussion with the SRA positioning the SQE as an opportunity to offer a more inclusive and accessible route into the Legal Profession, while popular online legal commentators at Legal Cheek raise points for consideration concerning the reality of the cost and access benefits.

With aspiring lawyers in 2017 facing LPC fees of over £15,000 in some cases, the need to review the accessibility and inclusive nature of legal training is welcome, but only time will tell if this new assessment meets the needs of the market once it is rolled out, currently planned for 2020.

Paul Philips, CEO of the SRA, was quoted in their press release saying that the SQE will allow for assurance that new entrants to the legal profession consistently meet the high standard required for the profession. He further mentioned that it could help with recruitment of talent for law firms.

At CJCH Solicitors, we are constantly assessing ways to diversify and innovate within the legal profession. We welcome the opportunity to consider a new approach to legal training, and we look forward to seeing how this initiative will roll-out and how we can support young aspiring solicitors in entering the marketplace and developing their skills.

We asked a selection of CJCH Solicitors’ team members for their opinions on the new developments and encouraged consideration for both sides of the debate. Here are some of the thoughts they shared:

Rosa Fernandez – CJCH Head of Employment and HR Services

Having completed the LPC in 1998-1999, I would have welcomed combining practical experience with theory; whilst called the Legal Practice Course, most of it is not practical at all. I also think it is right to make all entrants to the profession sit the same finals to ensure standards and consistency.

If these changes serve to improve public trust and confidence, then they can only be positive for the profession.”

Gareth Thompson – CJCH Head of Commercial Law

“In my view anything has to be welcomed which:
mitigates the “training contract lottery” risk and exorbitant GDL & LPC course fees; 
makes it easier for aspiring lawyers to qualify as they grow in technical competence and experience and also get paid sensibly for their services; 
encourages firms with substantial paralegal workforces to reciprocate their investment of time, loyalty, and effort by facilitating qualification; and
maximise the prospects for lawyers hitting the ground running both professionally and in revenue contribution by the time they qualify.

Nerys Thomas – CJCH Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution

Ensuring excellence within the profession will be favoured by all involved, but the concern with the new proposed procedure is that exams are not necessarily the best method of filtering “excellence” and may deter some students of high calibre who struggle with time-pressured assessments, especially ones which may determine their future career.  No information has been received in relation to what the costs will be for the new procedure.  Current fees for the LPC are eye watering, especially when this has followed a standard three-year degree.  It will be interesting to see whether the fees will be set at a more reasonable rate and how funding will be made available to pay for the new process.”

Stephen Clarke – CEO and Senior Partner

“We are facing an exciting time in the legal profession. Change is inevitable and it is the way in which we embrace change that defines our growth. There are strong arguments on both sides of this topic but as a firm CJCH supports equality, diversity and development. We are excited by the possibility of a dynamic industry which removes barriers to entry and allows for all to get involved. There are teething issues with all new initiatives, but we look forward to embracing the SRA’s SQE and including it in our planning for future employee development programs.”

There is much food for thought as the introduction of the SQE unfolds. As can be seen from the discussion above, many factors need to be considered, including balancing the ability to standardise assessment while also considering individuals learning and assessment styles. For now, you can review the documents relating to the consultation and discussions held by the SRA on the matter, here.