The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has announced that it is to press on with its plans for a new ‘super-exam’ taken at the point of qualification, but has delayed its final decision until next spring after the legal profession demanded more detail of how it would work.
In December 2015 the SRA published a consultation setting out proposals to introduce a common professional assessment for intending solicitors: the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The SQE would comprise a series of centralised assessments of knowledge and skills and would replace the existing routes to qualifying as a solicitor. The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) and the Law Society support centralised assessment in principle provided that the level is set appropriately and does not result in a dilution of standards, which will damage the standing of solicitors at home and abroad.
However following analysis of the consultation responses and other feedback, the SRA has decided to extend its implementation timetable so that it can work on getting the detail right before making a final decision. The SRA statement released on 1 June says:
“With more than 240 consultation responses, 18 events and nearly 200,000 impressions on social media, the SRA was pleased by the extensive engagement with its initial SQE proposals. The case for a new centralised approach, assessing trainee solicitors to robust, high standards in a consistent way, proved to be controversial. There was some support, but also considerable opposition, particularly from universities and academic representative groups.
Many respondents felt they needed more detail about how the whole qualification process would work before they could reach a firm view, while others questioned whether the current system was broken. The SRA originally planned to make a decision this month on the principle of introducing the SQE, and then consult on the detail of its plans. In response to the scale of the consultation feedback and the need to consider all the responses carefully, it has now put back a final decision on the assessment until spring next year.”
Leanne Maund, chair of the Junior Lawyers Division says:
“Given the concerns we expressed about the content and level of detail in the proposal contained in the Training for Tomorrow: Assessing Competence Consultations, both in our written response and in our further engagement with the SRA, the JLD welcomes the announcement to delay the final decision, in order to consult further. It seems that some sort of centralised assessment is inevitable (and is not, in principle, unwelcome).
The JLD will continue our discussions with the SRA and other interested parties to ensure that the solicitors of the future are trained to a high standard, and within a fair system which is not detrimental to social mobility. We hope that the next consultation is detailed enough to do this”