Questions have been asked in the House of Lords about the super-exam that aspiring solicitors will have to take at the point of qualification if proposals by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) go through.
Lord Low of Dalston, a former law lecturer and chair of the University of Leeds School of Law advisory board, asked for the Government’s view on the “widespread concern that the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s proposals will mean that universities have to teach to the solicitors qualifying examination if they are to remain competitive, potentially constraining the breadth of the curriculum that can be taught as part of an academic law degree and stifling innovation in curriculum development?”
Responding for the Government, Lord Keen of Elie said: “We do not believe that if these proposals were taken forward it would have such a stultifying effect upon the university law schools to which the noble Lord refers.”
Labour peer Lord Beecham asked if, “given the massive cuts in legal aid, the rising costs of tribunal and court proceedings, and the difficulties resulting from the consequential growth in the number of unrepresented litigants, should not any qualification programme include a requirement to provide pro bono advice and representation?”
Lord Keen responded that the question of what qualification requirements there should be remained “a matter for the Solicitors Regulation Authority and for the Legal Services Board” rather than the Government.
The super-exam, first proposed by the SRA in 2015 as part of wider reforms in the way solicitors are trained, has been widely criticised. The SRA has since released a second consultation with amendments to its original proposals.
SRA training proposals: a timeline
25 June 2013: After several delays, a major report into the way solicitors are trained is published. The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR). It calls on regulators to consider a range of reforms, including enhanced common training for future solicitors and barristers, beefed up ethics instruction, blending vocational study with on-the-job experience and widening non-graduate routes into the legal profession.
8 December 2015: Following months of swirling rumours, the SRA publishes its first proposals on how legal education should be reformed, putting a ‘super-exam’ taken at the point of qualification at the centre.
The response to the proposals is, in the main, negative. Various parties criticise the plans for being…
- “vague and confusing“
- “dangerous dumbing down“
- “likely to disadvantage the people they’re designed to help“
However, not all the reaction is negative. The University of Hertfordshire suspends its Legal Practice Course and revalidates its LLB to incorporate the new proposals.
“The proposals are an opportunity for every Law School to reflect on the future shape and form that law degrees, as well as legal education and training in a broader sense, should take,” it states. “It is not a time to be timid or to seek comfort in the familiar. It is a time to embrace change.”
1 June 2016: Responding to the criticism, the SRA delays its decision on training reform to spring 2017, but says there is still a “strong case” for the super-exam.
3 October 2016: The SRA publishes its second set of proposals. It addresses criticisms of its original plans by including the requirement that solicitors should be educated to degree level, and enshrines a period of work-based learning in the training period, but the super-exam remains a key tenet of its plans.
Unfortunately, the second set of plans do not attract a more positive response that the first ones, with professional bodies describing them as