Leeds lawyers slam SRA’s “vague and confusing” training reform proposals

The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s proposed reforms to legal training will “irreparably damage the UK legal brand,” Colin Gilbert, the president of Leeds Law Society, has said.

The SRA announced in December that it was minded to introduce a final exam at the point of qualification in order to ensure consistent standards across all new solicitors, whether they has completed a training contract or gone through one of the new entry routes to the profession, such as an apprenticeship or the paralegal short-cut.

The Society polled the city’s legal community and found the majority of lawyers do not understand the reforms to legal training that the Solicitors Regulation Authority is trying to make, with half entirely unaware of the SRA’s proposed reforms.

While 54 per cent believed the training process should be reformed, some 60 per cent of respondents said the SRA’s proposals would harm the solicitor brand, with a further 26 per cent saying it was possible. Just 8 per cent of respondents did not think it would cause any harm.

One third of lawyers thought the changes would lead to a more diverse profession.

One in five respondents thought that the Legal Practice Course is fit for purpose as it stands, with the majority (57 per cent) feeling that it should reformed but not abolished. Around 15 per cent said the LPC should be scrapped and replaced by more comprehensive PSC training.

There was overwhelming support for the training contract, though only 29 per cent agreed with the SRA’s proposal of a centralised exam at the end of it.

One respondent worried that “centralised testing would not be able to cater for the bespoke nature of the training contract. If candidates are not fit for qualification at the end of the training contract, this means that (a) the firm is not training them properly so should not be able to have trainees in the first place, or (b) the candidate should not have passed the degree/GDL/LPC.”

While lawyers expressed concern about diversity, only one third of those polled thought the proposed changes would lead to a more diverse profession, with 28 per cent believing there would be no difference and 30 unsure.

Gilbert said: “This isn’t about the legal profession corralling the wagons to keep people out, this is about driving standards higher and ensuring everyone has access to top quality justice.

“Our members are clear that these plans will drive down standards and it feels like a clumsy attempt to drive down fees. These reforms have little in the way of detail and that is a major concern. We need a number of routes to the profession but everybody must pass through the same eye of the needle at the end to guarantee that standards can be maintained.

“Access to justice isn’t defined by price, it is defined by the quality of service and expertise you receive and these reforms will undermine that.

“The UK legal profession is highly-regarded across the world and Leeds is the most important legal hub outside of London. There are 200 international law firms who have invested in the UK because the profession is so highly respected around the globe.

“If we push ahead with these vague, confusing and poorly considered reforms, we will irreparably damage the UK legal brand and that will have a huge impact on the economy nationally and here in Leeds.”

The SRA will visit York on 23 February as part of a national tour to hear the views of the profession on its proposals.