The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has written to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) detailing its continued concerns about the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). This comes ahead of the SRA’s final application to the Legal Services Board (LSB) for approval for the SQE next month.
Whilst the JLD is clear that it supports the decision to overhaul the current system of qualification and to introduce a standard centralised examination, they wish to ensure that its broader implementation is fit for purpose, maintains high standards and does not create an arbitrary barrier for entry to the profession.
The JLD’s specific concerns are summarised as follows:
- There has only been one Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) risk assessment exploring the potential risks and benefits of the SQE to EDI in the profession. The risk assessment outlined specific problems with the introduction of the SQE which remain largely unanswered. While we understand this risk assessment is currently being updated, we still have concerns about the scope of that assessment and these are set out further below.
- The removal of the requirement to complete a qualifying law degree (QLD) or a graduate diploma in law (GLD) coupled with the SQE 1's reliance on multiple choice questions to assess a candidate's functioning legal knowledge, dilutes the internationally recognised and respected standards for qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales and gives rise to serious doubts that MCQs alone can authorise a candidate's ability in all areas of law that the SRA grants a solicitor a licence to practice within.
- By not mandating a set order in which the SQE stages are to be completed (i.e. with SQE 2 as a final assessment of a candidate's ability to qualify as a solicitor, at the point of admission), the status-quo will remain, and the SQE will not be a bettering of the inequality within the profession, particularly in respect of diversity and social mobility. We believe that it is vital that the SRA mandate a specific order of Qualifying Work Experience ("QWE") before SQE 2 in order to ensure that becoming a solicitor does not remain a pay-to-access profession, but is instead about attracting the best and the brightest talent, regardless of their socio-economic background.
- The pilot of SQE 2 has only recently been completed and its results only just made available to the profession at large, with the assessment specification to be consulted on in late June and July 2020. We do not believe that there is enough time for the profession to review and comment on this fully before the LSB has to consult on the SRA's application (August onwards).
- Encompassing all of the above, we feel there is a general lack of transparency surrounding the SQE. The failure to publish the raw data, on which both pilot reports and recommendations are based, means the development process cannot be transparent.
The JLD say that “the SQE is intended to be a new and cheaper route to qualification that will ensure consistent, high standards for qualifying solicitors, alongside providing further flexibility in training and increased access to the profession. For the SQE to meet these aims, it is essential that the problems above, and as further detailed (in their letter), are given serious consideration and resolved prior to the introduction of the SQE.”