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ULaw: ‘Superficial’ SQE will fail students and law firms

Students will be hit in the pocket and diversity will be negatively impacted if plans go ahead

6 January 2017

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s super exam is ‘too superficial’, ‘narrow’, and will fail as a robust and effective measure of competence, according to the University of Law.

Providing its formal response to the regulator’s plan for a solicitors qualification examination, Professor Andrea Nollent, vice-chancellor and chief executive of ULaw, said the centralised exam would not achieve its aim of addressing the lack of consistent standards for qualification.

‘Although we don’t oppose the concept of centralised examinations, we disagree that the proposed SQE will be a robust and effective measure of competence,’ she said. ‘We welcome the desirability of widening participation in the profession, but we don’t believe that these proposals, as they stand, will achieve these collective aims.’

Arguing that law should remain a graduate profession, Nollent said the SQE will be ‘too superficial in stage one’ and ‘too narrow and restricted in stage two’ to properly assess the competence needed for trainee or qualified solicitors to safely act for the public.

‘The loss of elective subjects means that the level of understanding of key practice areas will inevitably be lower under the SQE regime than the current one,’ added Nollent. ‘Firms will find their trainees will not have the subject knowledge of the area they are working on, nor the same level of skills in applying knowledge to practice areas that current trainees have.’

As a result, ULaw anticipates that firms will require their trainees to undertake additional courses before commencing their training contracts, adding extra costs to students.

‘The proposed SQE may not develop or test the full range of intellectual skills needed to practise law,’ added Nollent, suggesting that, as a result, students will be less equipped for practice than they are under current qualification pathways. She also raised fears that the proposals may impact negatively on diversity, with firms only recruiting trainees from ‘tried and tested backgrounds’.

‘We appreciate that there is always scope to improve quality and raise standards, but we don’t feel the SQE as currently proposed will achieve this,’ said ULaw’s CEO. ‘We will continue to engage with the SRA and other relevant parties to explore how best to advance the training, assessment, and qualification process for the profession.’

ULaw’s criticism of the SQE will come as a blow to the SRA. The regulator delayed plans to introduce the SQE last year after receiving approximately ‘100 wholly negative’ responses to an earlier consultation. The latest consultation has received a mixed response thus far, with legal education providers wary of the proposals.

The SRA’s consultation on the SQE closes on Monday 9 January.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal

john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @JvdLD

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