Controversial reforms to the solicitor qualifying exam are to go ahead with beefed up assurances about the work experience provisions, the profession’s watchdog said yesterday.
The solicitors qualifying exam has been roundly criticised despite proponents arguing that it will widen access to the profession to those from unconventional or socially disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority confirmed yesterday that four elements will be required for qualification. All prospective solicitors must have a degree or equivalent, have passed both parts of the qualifying exam, undertaken two years’ qualifying work experience and demonstrated satisfactory character and suitability. Authority officials also confirmed that qualifying work experience must be signed off by a solicitor.
The regulator had faced criticism that the reforms would allow supervising solicitors with little knowledge of a trainee to sign off the work experience elements. However, the SRA said yesterday that it had amended the regime “so that a solicitor in this position would need to have reviewed the candidate’s work and received feedback from the candidate’s supervisor”.
The proposals now go to the Legal Services Board, the oversight body for the legal profession’s front line regulators in England and Wales, for approval. If the proposed regime wins the board’s backing it is anticipated that the authority will name an “assessment provider” next spring.
Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: “Our focus is on consistent, high standards. The new SQE will help boost trust that those who join the profession are safe to practise. We have listened to the feedback from the profession on the importance of qualifying work experience and made changes to how that is supervised.”
He argued that the reforms would “give candidates real flexibility, address the current training contract bottleneck and give the profession confidence that new solicitors have benefitted from the training that only the workplace can provide”.