SRA business plan 2020/21 consultation – Junior Lawyers Division response

The proposals

Our Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has responded to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) consultation on its 2020/21 business plan.

The SRA’s proposed business plan contains three objectives:

  • setting and maintaining high standards for the profession and the SRA
  • technology and innovation
  • anticipating and responding to change

The business plan also set out the SRA’s proposed budget for the 2020/21 financial year.

The JLD’s view

The SQE

We agree that the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) must be a priority for the SRA in the next year.

To meet its objectives, the SRA should look at the quality of the SQE and make sure it has a positive impact on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within the legal profession.

We question how the SQE will support candidates who require reasonable adjustments.

We’re concerned by the risk that the introduction of the SQE could create a two-tier legal system due to the likely cost of preparation courses, and that this could further disadvantage individuals with protected characteristics.

We expect the SRA to:

  • set out how it will evaluate whether the SQE has been a success before its introduction
  • have the SQE independently evaluated
  • set out a plan for what will happen if issues are found with the SQE post-implementation

SRA Standards and Regulations

We’re pleased that there will be a one-year review of the SRA Standards and Regulations 2019, and that the SRA will assess EDI implications in light of this review. We would like to further understand how the SRA plans to achieve this and how it will measure impact and diversity.

We hope that the SRA puts in place regulations to protect junior lawyers carrying out qualifying work experience (QWE) to ensure that aspiring lawyers are not exploited.

We would welcome further thoughts from the SRA about measures that are being put in place and how it will handle reports of possible exploitation.

We understand that the SRA will establish an in-house, ‘arms-length’ quality assurance team to carry out its disciplinary work. We believe that this team must take a proportional approach to determining fines and disciplinary actions.

We’ve had significant concerns over how the SRA has recently disciplined several junior lawyers. The SRA must consider the unintended consequences its decisions could have on junior lawyers, such as encouraging them to hide mistakes due to a fear of disproportionate sanctions.

We believe that the individual’s level of experience, remuneration and mental health must be taken into consideration when determining penalties.

We support a publication policy for the SRA’s disciplinary findings, but this must be anonymised to make sure the relevant individuals are adequately protected.

EDI

We support the SRA’s plans to promote diversity and equality in the profession.

We understand that the SRA plans to collect and share its diversity data with relevant stakeholders and, as part of the research, it will establish an advisory group to make sure all minority communities have a voice.

UK-EU exit

We’re pleased to see that the SRA will monitor the UK exit from its transition arrangement with the EU and that it aims to make sure there’s a smooth transition.

We want to make sure that the transition does not have a detrimental impact on foreign students who intend to practise law in the UK or junior lawyers who intend to dual qualify.

Creating an SRA office in Wales

We welcome the establishment of an office in Wales, as it’s important that the SRA represents Welsh solicitors.

We understand that the SRA’s office in Wales will work closely with the Law Society’s Cardiff office, and that this will ensure that the needs of Welsh junior solicitors are voiced and met.

Lawtech

It’s important to look at lawtech and its development, but we do not support the SRA’s role in actively promoting legal technology. It’s not clear how this fits within the remit of the regulatory body.

Instead, we believe that the SRA should help to foster an environment in which legal technology can thrive.

Next steps

The consultation closed on 26 August.

Read the consultation on the SRA website

We invite the SRA to continue its dialogue with the JLD.

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