Radical reforms of the solicitor qualification regime will fail to create a more diverse profession, the majority of practising lawyers have said in a survey published today.
The research illustrates the task ahead for the profession’s regulator, which last week announced that it was pressing ahead with plans to implement an overhauled qualification exam. Under the proposals from the Solicitors Regulation Authority, four elements will be required for qualification. All prospective solicitors will be required to have a degree or equivalent, have passed both parts of a new qualifying exam, undertake two years’ qualifying work experience and demonstrate satisfactory character and suitability.
Proponents claim the reforms will widen access to the legal profession to those from non-traditional social and ethnic backgrounds.
But research conducted for BPP University Law School found that only 25 per cent of the practising solicitors’ profession agrees. The survey also found that 72 per cent of law firms said that the intended benefits of the exam had not been sufficiently explained to them. Only 18 per cent of firms told the researchers that they were positive about the proposals.
The researchers also surveyed law students and found disquiet over the proposals among that group as well. “I’m worried the [exam] will make it too easy to become a solicitor thereby cheapening the work we have already put in,” one undergraduate said.
Jo-Anne Pugh, a director at BPP law school, said: “It would be fair to say that the [exam] has not been greeted with universal acclaim by the legal profession. Ultimately, it may make sense for law firms and students to see the [it] as an essential ‘floor’ for legal training rather than a sufficient ceiling. After all, the regulator only determines what the minimum requirement is; the market decides what is ideal.”