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Barristers and CILEx fellows may not have to sit SRA super exam

JLD chair said the SRA was 'selling a fairy tale' over no exemptions to proposed SQE

26 February 2016

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) may not ask barristers or legal executives to sit its proposed 'super exam', contradicting the belief that no qualifying solicitor would be exempt from the test.

Speaking at a Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) event, the SRA's Julie Brannan said the regulator had yet to consider any policy that decided the fate of those from a Chartered Institute of Legal Executive (CILEx) or Bar background looking to requalify as a solicitor.

The question arose after a legal executive first welcomed the idea of the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) - saying it would allow her to become a solicitor far more easily than by the current routes available - but then ask whether it would be a replication of many elements of the CILEx route to qualification.

Leanne Maund, chair of the JLD, said the association was 'shocked' to hear that other lawyers may not have to sit the solicitor examination.

'Until now, the SRA led us to believe that there would be no exemptions,' she told SJ. 'Indeed, one of the consultation questions asks respondents whether they agree that "there should be no exemptions, beyond those required by EU legislation, or as part of transitional arrangements".

'If it is the case that these exemptions will be included, the SRA have undermined their own argument that the SQE will create complete consistency and remove the perception of a "two-tier" system under the current regime. The SRA's message is becoming increasingly confused.'

During the event, which saw Maund and Brannan go head-to-head on debating the need for and feasibility of the SQE, the Eversheds associate said the SRA was 'selling a fairy tale', and that the regulator did not go far enough in solving the junior profession's problems.

Louise Taylor, a trainee at Anthony Gold, said she thought the currently unclear proposals might lead to a potentially 'bizarre' situation where barristers and legal executives would be able to become solicitors more easily than solicitors themselves.

Taylor added that by asking wannabe solicitors to move away from academic learning, the profession could become the 'lowest denominator of legal qualification' compared, for example, to the Bar.

'Do we really want to broaden the gap or, perhaps more importantly, perceived gap between the expertise and roles of barristers and solicitors further?' she asked.

Brannan, however, told SJ that the SRA was addressing the lack of a consistent, high measure that all entering the profession needed to meet.

'As we said in our consultation, we need to look closely at what that means for, among others, barristers and qualified legal executives, whose competence overlaps with the solicitors' competence statement, and what we would need to see from them,' she explained.

'But I think this points to one of the great strengths of the SQE, in that it would help open up new ways into the profession, including for other legal practitioners, who wish to become solicitors.'

Another point of contention during the evening was how much the SQE would cost. Audience members were keen to debate and contrast how much they would have to fork out for the SQE compared to the current route of choice, the legal practice course.

However, the SRA could offer no assistance as to how expensive it would be, as it may wish to enter a public procurement process with legal education providers, should the SQE become a reality.

'We have modelled a number of scenarios and options for the SQE,' said Brannan. 'Publishing the costs identified through our modelling would seriously hamper negotiations to secure the best deal with providers.'

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