updated on 19 May 2020
When I qualified as a solicitor last year, it wasn’t after completion of a training contract. Instead, I had benefitted from the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) equivalent means route, having worked as a paralegal for a number of years.
A few years ago the SRA introduced the equivalent means route to widen opportunities for qualification, which had previously been limited to either obtaining a training contract, undertaking the legal executive route, or the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (for those who were already qualified in another jurisdiction). It was and remains a breakthrough for diversity in the legal sector. It represents the ability to take your chances of qualification into your own hands and in a way custom-make your own ‘training contract’, even working at different firms and in-house organisations if it suits you. I thoroughly recommend that all aspiring lawyers look into it – for some it may be that they have already accumulated the experience necessary to qualify without knowing it.
We all know how notoriously competitive training contract applications can be and like many others, I faced rejection. I had been working as a paralegal at Fladgate LLP for coming up to two years and I knew I wanted to train at the firm, as it had an excellent reputation, provided high level of client contact and had a true and friendly open-door policy.
When I was turned down for a training contract I was heartbroken and felt that the hard work I had put in as a paralegal had gone to waste. That all changed when I found out about the equivalent means route. Suddenly, I realised that the legal experience I had gained so far not only counted for something, but could in fact contribute directly toward my qualification.
Similar to a training contract, the equivalent means route requires that you complete a period of recognised training for at least two years under the supervision of practising solicitor. At the time I started the route, this had to be across a minimum of three different areas of law. [However, this is no longer required, nor will it be required when the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is introduced in 2021.]
There are two key differences that I would highlight to those considering this route:
Unlike a traditional training contract, both your experience and application are entirely self-led. My firm was very supportive of my working toward qualification in this route (including paying for my Professional Skills Course), but it remained my responsibility to make sure that I met all of the objectives set by the SRA, by tracking my work and looking for opportunities to fill the gaps.
I had to apply and interview internally for paralegal roles in different departments to fulfil the multi-practice requirement, in contrast to trainees who would be on an automatic rotation of departments. Likewise, it was my responsibility to seek quality work that was chargeable or at least worthy of being chargeable, to meet the necessary standard. There are also no deadlines or time limits except those you impose on yourself, or perhaps LPC/SQE expiry if applicable.
During a training contract you might be asked to regularly complete a workbook to tick off tasks that you carried out in each seat. On completion your training principal or supervisor will also sign off documentation to confirm that you have completed all required training.
The equivalent means route requires a full write up of the relevant work you are seeking to rely on for qualification. This includes completion of a table which, among other things, asks for the skills and knowledge used and gained in achieving each of the 29 or so objectives (formally called ‘Practice Skill Standards’), and cross-reference to evidence in support.
This evidence in support will usually be in the form of a bundle of documents, comprising proof of the work mentioned in the application. In my case this included, amongst other things; attendance notes; documents I had drafted; email and letter correspondence; and even timesheets. Evidence must be provided for every objective, and each area of law claimed.
As you can imagine – a very large bundle.
Also required - and key to the application - are references from each of the practising solicitors who supervised the work on which you are relying. These references can form part of the evidence, but also need to corroborate it.
If you are unable to provide copies of documents you have worked on, you can write out ‘case studies’, and have your referees corroborate these instead. This is particularly useful if you have left the firm or company in which you obtained part of the experience you wish to rely on, and they are not willing to provide the documents to you. This may also be the case where the work is highly sensitive and their disclosure cannot be risked.
In any event, all documentation relied on should be appropriately redacted so as not to include any confidential, sensitive, or personal data that may be a breach of SRA rules or law (in case you had forgotten about GDPR).
Clearly therefore, the equivalent means route is a lot of work. While working as a paralegal, for a number of months I spent my weekends and evenings putting the application together. Many social events were sorely missed. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Sophie Kasmi is an in-house lawyer at sustainable technologies company Johnson Matthey, and founder of kyr.org.uk, an online platform which promotes access to justice by educating the public on their everyday legal rights. She is also a blogger @goodvibeslawyer.