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Junior Lawyers Division FAQ hopes to raise awareness of equivalent means provision

Surprise over the small number of applications for equivalent means qualification leads junior membership body to release handy guide on route

21 October 2015

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Too few applications, lack of knowledge on the route's existence, and convoluted information on the regulator's website has led the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) to release an equivalent means qualification FAQ.

Introduced last year by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), equivalent means allows aspiring solicitors to be admitted to the roll if they have completed an academic and vocational stage of training, without the need to secure and complete an ever-elusive training contract.

Once dubbed the 'paralegal shortcut', the few case studies available of students who have qualified through this route show that it could take up to five years to be admitted to the roll.

'The equivalent means route is perhaps the issue the JLD has received the most queries about from our members in the past year,' said the JLD chair and Baker & McKenzie associate, Max Harris.

'There are a huge number of LPC graduates who are paralegals and who have been paralegals for the past two (or more) years. They may have been doing the same level of work as trainee solicitors in their firms, and were therefore disillusioned by the fact that they have been unable to qualify without getting an official training contract position.'

Despite great interest in the route, Harris said that when it comes to the numbers, people were surprised by how few applications had been submitted, an issue he flagged in May when he stated that equivalent means qualification had failed to make its mark.

After his SJ article published, the SRA contacted Harris, acknowledging his comments, and said it was happy to answer JLD members' questions on the route.

'The SRA website contains a lot of information but it can be difficult to find, process, and decide whether it applies to the equivalent means route,' said Charlotte Parkinson, the student representative on the JLD committee.

The Stewarts Law paralegal added: 'Having spoken to a number of students and paralegals at JLD events earlier in the year, it was very clear that the majority of delegates at these events were unaware of the equivalent means route. In addition, the few who were aware of the route didn't understand the application process or know where to get further information.'

The FAQ asks questions such as: 'Do I need the support of my firm/organisation?', 'Do [the SRA] have any precedent examples?', and 'Have you spoken to law firms about whether they would be interested in employing [newly qualifieds (NQs)] from this route? If so, what did they tell you?'

The regulator responded to the latter question by saying: 'The SRA has engaged with providers who have been interested in knowing more about the equivalent means provision. It was also included as a proposal in the regulations review II consultation that went out in December 2013. [Some] 94 per cent of respondents expressed overall agreement with the proposal.'

'The question of job prospects is still unclear,' commented Harris, 'as it will depend on how firms react to this route. My advice to anyone considering putting in an application for equivalent means is to engage with your employer and see whether there will be an NQ role for you at your current firm if your application is successful.'

Parkinson added that raising awareness among JLD members would hopefully raise awareness among the more senior members in law firms.

'It is hoped that paralegals interested in qualifying by this route would speak to their HR teams and/or recruitment partners to gauge their views on this process,' she said. 'It is important to find out whether firms would be willing to promote their paralegal straight to NQ, "skipping" the official trainee step.'

'This document has been produced with the help of the SRA,' said Harris. 'All the answers are directly from them. We came up with the questions, they provided the answers. This way, people can be confident that it is not our interpretation of the rules, but rather direct answers from the regulator.'

Laura Clenshaw is managing editor of Solicitors Journal

@L_Clenshaw

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