updated on 03 May 2019
Aspiring solicitors could be “exploited” under the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), warns the Junior Lawyer Division (JLD) in an open letter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) published this week.
Following the news that the SRA will no longer regulate training contracts after the introduction of the SQE in 2021, the letter notes that the SRA has not explained how it will regulate the work experience element of the SQE. In order to qualify as a solicitor through the new system, candidates will need a minimum of two years’ qualifying work experience. The JLD, which represents students and solicitors up to five years qualified, points out that if this work experience is not officially regulated then junior lawyers “will be exploited in unhealthy cultures, work and training environments and inadequate training will be provided”.
The JLD urges the SRA to reinstate a mandatory minimum salary for trainee solicitors which was abolished in 2014, in order to “ensure the protection of future solicitors, and the diversity of the profession, which is within the consumer interest”.
It warns that through the new regulations, aspiring solicitors could undergo their qualifying work experience without receiving remuneration, a worrying prospect given that taking the SQE is expected to cost between £3,000 and £4,500. This places a significant barrier on entry to the profession for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, argues the JLD, which is counter-intuitive to the exam’s intention to widen access to the profession and encourage diversity.
The letter also reports the findings of the JLD’s annual resilience and wellbeing survey which revealed that over 93% of respondents felt stressed in their role. More needs to be done to “support positive mental health and working environments,” says the letter.