Law Society squares up to SRA over access to profession

The Law Society have attacked the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority’s proposals for a single qualifying exam saying could prevent the most talented joining the profession.

The response, written by the society’s president Jonathan Smithers says the Law Society are also against anything that could “damage the standing of solicitors at home and abroad” and that nay new standard should not “result in the current high standards being diminished”

Jonathan Smithers, Law Society president, wrote: “The expert legal advice and services provided by solicitors is a success story which contributes significantly to the economy, jobs market and the small and medium-sized enterprises sector. Our law firms are the best in the world. It is therefore critical that the standards for the solicitor qualification are not diminished, as this will damage the standing of solicitors at home and abroad and thereby impact on our economy and jobs. It is also not in the interest of clients who buy legal services to have a poorer standard of service, as access to expert legal advice underpins the justice system and is a cornerstone of our society.

“It is essential that any new central assessment is set at the right level and does not result in the current high standards being diminished. We are not convinced that the SRA’s plans will result in standards being maintained and we know that many in the profession feel the same way.

“We want the best people to be able to join the solicitor profession, irrespective of their background or the pathways they have taken to qualification. This means that the different routes into the profession need to be absolutely clear. This is critical if we are to promote and support social mobility in the profession.

“The SRA maintains that its proposals will increase access to the profession, but it admits that this would only be the case if legal education and training providers develop training courses that are cheaper and more flexible than the current qualifying law degree and Legal Practice Course (LPC). Our concern is that the SRA’s consultation contains disappointingly little detail on the proposed assessments. We are asking for evidence that the SRA proposals would actually represent a lower cost to potential entrants.’

“To drive professional standards, the responsibility for professional standards needs to be owned and driven by the profession, as does entry into the profession. The government’s upcoming consultation on separating the regulators from the representative bodies is an opportunity to redefine what regulation should cover to ensure that it is simple and better, and applies fairly to all legal services, while at the same time ensuring that the profession has the responsibility for entry into the profession and for professional standards.

“The Law Society agrees that setting a definitive standard of entry into the solicitor profession is a logical step and we support the use of centralised assessments as part of this where appropriate.

“The SRA states that its assessments would be at degree level, but there would be no requirement for an underpinning degree-level course, such as the law degree or CILEx or Apprenticeship courses. Academic rigour underpins the commercial success of the solicitor profession and we believe that the removal of the current quality indicators – a degree-level qualification, a Legal Practice Course and a substantial and supervised period of work-based training – will jeopardise the international standing of the solicitor qualification, negatively impacting on clients, our economy and jobs.

“Solicitors of England and Wales play a significant role in the export of UK plc. The legal industry is worth more than £30 billion to the UK economy. The period of on-the-job training prior to qualification is important for the reputation of the solicitor qualification both nationally and internationally, where our academic requirements are already viewed as ‘light touch’ due to the relative brevity of the university education.

“The SRA is making piecemeal announcements to the profession on its proposals. This is unhelpful and causing grave concern. We want to see the detail of all the proposals so that they can be robustly scrutinised and their full implications considered, ensuring the stated aims are met.”

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