Any choice on the Solicitors Regulation Authority s strategy to reform the credentials process has actually been pushed back to next year after a forensic evaluation by the profession and legal education companies left no element undisputed.
Its harshest critics call the proposal, which is based round a centralized evaluation without any prerequisites for any prescribed vocational training, absolutely misconceived and an abnegation of the authority’s responsibility to manage the training process
Even those who support the principle of centralized assessment, including the Law Society, stay unconvinced by the SRA s claim that its strategy to enhance requirements by making them more constant will achieve its objective of enhancing diversity by making the process less expensive and less prescriptive.
While there is widespread relief among the profession and legal education providers that the SRA appears to have actually listened to their concerns, they remain deeply fretted that its conviction that there is still a strong case for such extreme change may have destructive effects.
The SRA will now need to strive to produce a sufficiently detailed consultation paper in the autumn to win over sceptics who fear its approach might weaken the value of the title of lawyer here and abroad, while creating brand-new logjams both pre-qualification and at the recently qualified stage.
The value of getting the credentials process right is so critical that it prompted the biggest ever reaction to an SRA consultation paper.
The regulator was plainly taken aback by the level of the criticism. President Paul Philip confessed at a media instruction that he had actually expected to be pertaining to the 1 June board meeting for a choice on whether to go ahead in concept with the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). Instead, the authority will now spend more time speaking with stakeholders about the information.
By moving the choice to next year, the introduction of the SQE if it goes on will not be introduced prior to the scholastic year 2019/20. Transitional arrangements will then need to be in location prior to a most likely cut-off date of 2026/27 for admission as a solicitor under existing guidelines.
Asked at the rundown how harming the continuing unpredictability would be for those wishing to become a solicitor, SRA chair Enid Rowlands responded: We’re not going to desert any person, young or old, if they’ve started. If someone s embarked on a course we’ll make certain that course is still a suitable course for the individual, provided they meet the standards. The standards are everything. We would not dream of deserting individuals midway from [ that].
The SRA s executive director Crispin Passmore went on to defend the authority’s technique. He stated it now accepted that any brand-new program must have a period of pre-qualification work experience at its core, while stressing the propositions were about higher standards, not reducing them in any method, shape or form. Everyone had to be positive that those holding the title of solicitor were good enough to do so, he went on, before adding quickly that good enough is a really high conventional.
Passmore was keen to tension support from the similarity the Law Centre’s Network and the Black Solicitors Network. The responses were split, he said, between 40/50 which were wholly positive and about 100 which were wholly unfavorable. In the middle, he continued, were a big portion of approximately another 100 who stated we are not keen on this as you have created it at the minute however if you give us some more detail and engage with us and address our questions, we see no reason this can’t be a good way forward.
Even when pushed however, the authority would not offer a generic breakdown of who fell into which camp on the grounds that it is still analyzing the reactions and will publish that information with the fall examination.
Peter Crisp, dean and president of BPP University Law School, is one of the most outspoken critics of the reforms. He accuses the authority of trying to spin the responses to appear more beneficial than they are. Have you seen one law practice cheerleading for this? he asks.
Good question so the Gazette asked a range of representative bodies, practitioners and legal teachers which bracket they inhabit.
The SRA made the best call to delay the decision, says Allan Murray-Jones, who chairs the Law Society’s education and training committee, because there are lots of issues still to be fixed.
The Society falls into Passmore’s middle camp. We are great with the concept of a centrally set abilities evaluation, states Murray-Jones, however I am amazed as numerous as 50 responses were completely positive. Some of the objections were likewise entirely specious.
And he stresses the significance of staying engaged with the examination procedure because I put on to believe the SRA is going away to believe whether there must be a SQE it’s more about what kind of exam it is going to be.
The Junior Lawyers Division also concurs in principle with some kind of centralized evaluation to make sure consistency of education and training. However, chair Leanne Maund says the JLD was unimpressed with the preliminary proposition, which it fears might lead to a lowering of standards, along with triggering more hindrances to access to the profession, to the hindrance of social movement.
Caroline Pearce, chair of the City of London Law Society s training committee, states it is tough to pigeon hole the committee s views into the SRAs breakdown of the reactions. She adds: The conclusion we reached after extremely cautious analysis was that we might not accept the proposals as they were developed in the consultation, as we had severe problems with a lot of the key elements.
For Tonia Secker, training principal of Trowers & Hamlins, the level of issue revealed by the career and academics must make any logical regulator stop and reconsider. Offered the comparative absence of detail on a number of the proposals, it is hard to see how the SRA believed that any meaningful decisions could be attained.
BPP s Crisp does not keep back, especially when challenged that his criticisms are driven by self-interest. One SRA insider characterized those responding negatively as the they would state that, wouldn’t they group.
I have an interest in what my client companies want, states Crisp. We have 60 law practice who send out all their students to us specifically and not one thinks this is a smart idea. The SRA isn’t truly listening to the career or legal teachers.
It has decided this is exactly what it wants to do. It will keep asking up until it gets it, because it is just interested in making life easy for itself with the minimum governing requirements. That appears to me to be an abnegation of its obligation to the profession and the public.
The SRA says that, by removing the requirement of the Legal Practice Course, students will be spared what SRA training and education director Julie Brannan calls the 15,000 LPC gamble. They will be able to take and spend for the skills aspect of the SQE at the end of a period of work experience rather than beforehand.
The LPC is a training program that prepares people for practice. The SQE is about checking whether they can do the task.
I am not averse to alter and I am not stating the LPC is best by any methods. We have had 25 years’ experience of running trade training, which I think has actually ended up being the gold standard of legal education in the world, and the SRA wants to toss that out of the window.
Professor Andrea Nollent, Provost of the University of Law, is more conciliatory, praising the SRA for listening. She believes ULaw’s position on the SQE is pretty unshakeable.
She did not wish to say which of Passmores 3 categories ULaw came into. Our response was differed throughout the piece, she says. For us, consistency and rigor are essential and our vital issue had to do with the SQE’s limitation in terms of scope in its evaluation methods or topic locations.
We speak to lots of law practice about the requirements of their future solicitors and the variety of knowledge that must be tested, so we have concerns about whether optional topics currently available in the LPC need to be shown in the SQE.
For Helen Hudson, head of postgraduate professional programs at Nottingham Law School, the SRA’s claim that there is a strong case for the SQE is rather puzzling in light of the consultation responses.
If there was a strong case and everyone remained in support, then we would have been taking a look at carrying out the proposition without more delay, she states.
Crispin Passmores characterization of responses as being unfavorable is simple, as is the referral to the negatives originating from the legal education sector. It’s clear not just from our reaction but likewise the responses from others that very well balanced and thoughtful feedback has been considered that cannot be categorized in one word, unfavorable.
Hudson says further delay is undoubtedly damaging and is bound to affect the development of existing courses. Companies will not invest lots of money and resources in redesigning a course that may concern an end. They are also being left in a vacuum trying to second guess what new courses they may need to establish.