The government has published the new assessment plans and standards for its ‘Trailblazer’ legal apprenticeships for qualification as a legal executive, paralegal or solicitor, with oral and written tests sitting alongside workplace assessment.
As well as measuring up to work-based standards assessed by their employer, apprentices wanting to qualify as a solicitor will be required to pass a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) centralised assessment, which will come in two parts.
The first part will be timed and computerised ’functioning knowledge tests’ which will “require candidates to identify relevant legal principles and apply them to factual issues so as to produce a solution which addresses a client’s needs… Unflagged ethical questions, requiring candidates to demonstrate that they can spot these issues and understand and apply the rules of professional conduct, will pervade the tests.”
Apprentices will have to pass the first part of the SRA assessment and meet the work-based requirements before they can take a final ’standardised practical legal examination’, in which they will be tested on their technical legal competency in the context of three different practice areas, including contentious and non-contentious areas of law.
The exam will take the form of practical role plays, with an assessor playing the role of a judge, that will test apprentices’ interviewing, advising, advocacy and negotiation skills, and online case studies “in which candidates must complete a specified task – research the answer to a legal problem using legal databases, or write a letter, or draft a legal document,” to test their written ability.
Again, ethical issues will be incorportated into the exam. Solicitor hopefuls will also be required to meet character and suitability tests before they are admitted.
There will be no restrictions on the number of times a candidate can attempt an assessment.
The recommended academic entry requirements for the six-year-long solicitor apprenticeship will be 5 GCSEs and 3 A Levels at Grade C, though alternative factors such as relevant employer-led work experience or a previous relevant apprenticeship will also be considered. Students who have completed the Graduate Diploma in Law or Legal Practice Course will be entitled to exemptions from training.
The Trailblazer apprenticeship is the culmination of years of discussion about the future of legal education. The Legal Education and Training Review of 2013 recommended that there be a variety of routes to qualification apart for the traditional training contract and pupillage options. Last year the government approved the standards that would allow apprentices to work their way up to full solicitor status.
The Trailblazer scheme is not to be confused with the University of Law’s separate articled apprenticeship scheme, launched late last year.
The full assessment plan and standards can be read here.
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