Solicitors Qualifying Examination will be of lower quality than the GDL and LPC, and may lead to more costs for students, says University of Law
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The new centralised ‘super exam’ for qualifying solicitors which will replace the Graduate Diploma in Law and Legal Practice Course (LPC) does not amount to a “robust and effective measure of competence” and may end up costing students more than the current system, the University of Law has said.
Professor Andrea Nollent, the University of Law’s chief executive and vice chancellor, raised the institution’s concerns following the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) decision to go ahead with the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which should be implemented by 2020. Nollent said that while the University of Law does not oppose a centralised exam to achieve consistency in standards across all the possible ways to train as a solicitor, it is concerned that SQE will be too shallow and constricted to ensure that qualifying solicitors have the range of skills that they need. This could lead to new training courses springing up which will cost students thousands in the same way as the LPC does currently.
The desired aim of the SQE is also to widen access to careers in the legal profession, but whether this will be achieved has also been questioned by the University of Law.
Nollent commented: “We agree that, as with other professions, law should be a graduate profession but the SQE will be too superficial in stage 1 and too narrow and restricted in stage 2, to properly assess the competence needed for trainee or qualified solicitors to safely act for the public. In particular, the loss of elective subjects means that the level of understanding of key practice areas will inevitably be lower under the SQE regime than the current one. Firms will find their trainees will not have the subject knowledge of the area they are working on, nor the same level of skills in applying knowledge to practice areas that current trainees have. We anticipate that many law firms will require additional courses to be undertaken before the period of work-based learning commences to make up for the competence gap. These courses will add to the cost of training, and potentially end up costing students more than the current LPC. In addition, we are concerned the proposed SQE may not develop or test the full range of intellectual skills needed to practise law. This may mean students are less equipped for practice than they are under the current pathways to qualification. The SRA proposals may also impact negatively on diversity, with firms reverting to recruiting trainees from tried and tested backgrounds. We appreciate that there is always scope to improve quality and raise standards, but we don’t feel the SQE as currently proposed will achieve this. We will continue to engage with the SRA and other relevant parties to explore how best to advance the training, assessment, and qualification process for the profession.”