Law profession sceptical over legal super-exam
12th Oct 2016
The profession has reacted sceptically to proposals to plough ahead with a super-exam for all would-be solicitors, expressing fears that the profession is ‘dumbing down,’ and that smaller firms may lose out on trainees.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority began its second consultation on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). It proposes that candidates will need to be qualified to ‘degree level or equivalent’ and be tested on knowledge of law, legal processes, and legal thinking and writing.
The exam will be taken in two stages: a six-part computer-based multiple-choice exam, and a practical stage which includes presenting arguments and drafting.
Candidates would also need to complete a period of workplace training, such as in a student law clinic, working as a paralegal, or a formal training contract.
However, the SRA said it expected many aspiring solicitors to take stage 1 before their work experience and stage 2 after it.
The Law Society warned that any centralised assessment process must ensure clear entry routes to the profession and not result in a dilution of standards. A spokesperson said that they are “pleased that the SRA paused to review their earlier proposals following widespread concern across the profession.”
Legal academics were unenthusiastic, however. Rebecca Huxley-Binns, vice-provost at the University of Law, said the proposals for stage 1 of the SQE had a “very broad specification”.
“For a student who has been taking a part-time law degree over four or five years and may not even have started a workplace job, to take that exam is a big ask,” she said. “We need to see any questions to be assured of standards.”
Andrew Callaghan, senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield School of Law, said proposals to allow trainees to come on board before the second stage of the exams could see smaller firms that do not have sufficient training resources become more reluctant to take on trainees.
The SRA received a barrage of criticism when it first introduced plans for the SQE in December 2015.