The Law Society of England and Wales has responded to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announcement on the future process for qualifying as a solicitor.
The SRA is proposing to introduce a Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which would replace the existing routes to becoming a solicitor.
The Law Society strongly supports centralised assessment to ensure all solicitors meet consistent high standards, but has insisted the new system must be realistic regarding work experience.
President of the Law Society of England and Wales, Robert Bourns, said: “We will judge these reforms on the impact on accessibility and standards. Encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to become solicitors has long been a priority for the Law Society. Accessibility to the profession and promotion of the highest standards of qualification must be paramount.
“The adequacy of the qualifying legal work experience must also be a key focus. The two-year period of work experience must be at an appropriate standard and sufficiently relevant to what the market requires.
“We’ve said previously that inequalities may emerge through different pathways within the work-based learning element, with those who follow a more traditional route being potentially perceived as better than those who follow a more flexible pathway with multiple placements.
“If the new system is to broaden access, it will be important to ensure that high quality guidance is available, and that it reaches the broadest possible community of firms and individuals. Having funding support in place will also be key to ensuring it is talent and work ethic, not background, that defines your success.
“We have strongly suggested that the SRA ensures the final SQE proposals meet government funding criteria and that the SRA should take steps to liaise with government as part of their work developing proposals.
Robert Bourns added: “A number of the Law Society’s suggestions have already been taken on board in this consultation process. UK law is respected globally. This reputation has been established over centuries and is based on a number of factors: the courts, judiciary, London as a key financial centre, and the quality of legal education. We will continue to review details as they emerge to ensure this reputation is protected.”