City of London Law Society: super-exam will cause ‘irreparable damage’

The City of London Law Society (CLLS) has become the latest organisation to criticise the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s plans for a new ‘super-exam’ that solicitors would take on the point of qualification.

In a response to the SRA’s second consultation on its training reforms, which closed last Monday, the CLLS welcomed the proposal that two elements of the current system would be retained – the requirement for both a degree-level qualification and a period of experience in the workplace before qualification.

“However, it said, “despite the SRA’s own acknowledgement that much of the large response to its first Consultation was negative, it is still broadly pursuing the same strategy and the same proposals. This is disappointing.”

It added: “Our analysis of the proposals follows a consultation and feedback with member firms. It has led us to the conclusion that the proposals might achieve the objective of consistency in standards but they fail to demonstrate high standards of learning or to deliver a modern and relevant syllabus of study which provides newly qualified solicitors with a knowledge base and the skills to be effective in providing a broad range of advice in the most appropriate areas of practice.”

“In summary, there is insufficient evidence that the proposals are better in terms of quality assurance or that the proposed syllabus is better than the current one. In fact it is clear that the result will be a qualification with a narrower knowledge base which is significantly less relevant for many solicitors qualifying today or in the future. We know of no other regulator in the UK or elsewhere reducing the practical relevance of the training and education which it is assessing as part of a proposed qualification.”

On the proposed Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) itself, the CLLS said “irreparable damage” could be caused to the profession’s reputation and that consumers would be put at risk. It also warned that law degrees might suffer.

“We feel that the revised SQE proposals do not provide a sufficient test of competence. Without centralised standards for the delivery of preparatory training for the SQE, the provision of such training, being market-driven and demand-led will inevitably narrow in focus to reflect the fact many prospective solicitors will choose to pay as little as possible to achieve a pass result,” it said.

“Indeed that will become a selling point of courses stripped to the bare minimum to enable a decent attempt at the SQE and over time professional training will simply become limited to what is needed to pass the SQE. This may even become the case to some extent in law degrees, to the extent that the traditional subjects in law degrees are pared down to make room for the SQE-compliant elements.”

“We feel that consumers will be put at risk and that the profession’s reputation and capability will suffer irreparable damage both domestically and internationally.”

The CLLS’s full response can be found here.

Last week, the University of Law released its own response to the SRA consultation. It warned: “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.”

The SRA’s revised plan proposes four key building blocks that will lead to qualification as a solicitor.

An initial proposal, revealed in December 2015, attracted a large amount of criticism from across the profession, with one academic warning that the SQE would represent “dangerous dumbing down”, leading the SRA to launch a second consultation and delay its final decision until spring 2017.