10 Feb 2016

'Dumbing down the law': Solicitor 'super-exam' cops flack from legal academics

Keele University legal scholar Professor Anthony Bradney has slammed Solicitors Regulation Authority plans to introduce a qualifying 'super-exam' for new solicitors as 'dangerous' to the legal profession.

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A paper by Professor Bradney entitled 'Dumbing Down the Law', which argues passionately against introducing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination in the UK, has been published this month by thinktank Politeia. Critics of the proposal, floated by the SRA in December, suggest that introducing the SQE will serve to weaken the solicitor brand and potentially give rise to high-cost, low-quality 'cramming courses' designed to simply help students pass the exam, rather than become skilled legal practitioners. 'SQE, if introduced, could be a way in which solicitors very rapidly lose their reputation,' warned Professor Bradney in an interview earlier this month.

Proposed changes

Under the new SRA qualification model, new solicitors would no longer need to be graduates and the current minimum of two years on-the-job training could potentially be reduced. While the SRA believes that the SQE could help ensure consistency in training and competency across the profession, Professor Bradney has suggested that such a move could do irrevocable damage to the standing of solicitors vis-a-vis other professions. 'We live in a world where in order to become a nurse or a teacher you need to have a degree,' he commented. 'Emphasising the lack of connection between degrees and [solicitor] qualification, as the SRA is doing, when other occupations are doing the reverse will diminish confidence in solicitors.'

Devaluing specialisation

BPP Law School dean Peter Crisp has also raised concerns about the new SRA approach to solicitor training, arguing that an SQE route to qualification places 'no value' on electives and provides little incentive for new solicitors to develop specialist areas of knowledge before going into practice. 'What they are proposing, astonishingly, is a reduction of knowledge at the point of qualification compared to the current system,' Mr Crisp commented.

Small firms to lose out

If the SQE is implemented, Professor Bradney suggests that it will be small and medium-sized firms that are likely to lose out. 'It is small firms, high street firms, that have the most to worry about, particularly now when it is quite possible [for clients] to approach barristers directly. Would you prefer to see a barrister with very high qualifications or a solicitor with SQE?' Sources: The Lawyer; The Lawyer (2); Legal Futures 

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