I think this might be a subject to which I have to return on a regular basis. Inevitably the changing qualification process for solicitors is going to create anxiety for those planning to embark on legal professional careers.
Broadly, to recap, the current system of Qualifying Degree, or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and a two year period of recognised professional training is to be replaced by two new assessments, the Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE) Stage 1 and 2 and a period of recognised training (for more info see my previous blog and YouTube videos).
At the same time the Qualified Lawyers’ Transfer Scheme (QLTS) is to be abolished and qualified lawyers from other jurisdictions will also have to pass the new SQE exams. Big changes! So, is there any news?
The start date has definitely slipped
The earliest the new qualification may become available is now 2020. Those who start the qualification process before September 2020 will be able to qualify under the current system. This means that the “run off period” for qualification under the old system will continue until 2024. Starting a qualifying law degree or the GDL is what is meant by “starting the qualification process”. That’s all perfectly clear for everyone starting a law degree this year or in 2018 or 2019.
It’s not quite so simple for anyone embarking on a non-law degree from this autumn onwards, if that person has plans to be a professional lawyer.
If the implementation of the new system slips further, and those “in the know” think there is every prospect that it will, then the old process will still be available for those non-law students, starting three year degrees this autumn. But there are no guarantees!
Will there be an advantage in waiting and trying to qualify under the new system?
Probably not. The wise money now seems to be that if you want to become a solicitor you should plough on with the old qualification process. There is no certainty as to when the SQE will come into play and it will be some time yet before anyone has a detailed idea of what the assessment is going to include. The standard required to pass the SQE exams is to be set at what is expected of a minimally competent newly qualified solicitor. The standard for the LPC is what is expected of a person ready to start the two year period of professional training. It may be that some of the SQE questions are similar to those of the LPC but that the pass mark may be much higher.
The choice to press ahead is easy if you have a training contract. It’s going to be more difficult if you have to decide whether to self fund the GDL and LPC. There is a suggestion that some law firms may feel that passing the SQE exams may not be adequate for them when students have not gained a Qualifying Law degree. If you haven’t studied law and the GDL remains available as a qualification it might be smart to go ahead and study it, even if you don’t have a training contract.
Does any of this impact on decision making on whether to study law if you want to be a solicitor
Well yes, it does. Up to now I would have advised that there was no real advantage in studying law over another subject. Law firms have been just as keen to take non law students as those with a law degree. At least in the short term, it seems that the best advice now if you want to be a solicitor is to study law. If law firms are not liking the look of the new SQE and are comparing it unfavourably to the GDL then don’t risk being screened out of the application process by studying a subject other than law.
It may well be that as the new qualification process becomes clearer then this concern abates, or law firms get together to put in place their own course to replace the old GDL. This hasn’t happened yet!
Anything else you need to know?
Just one thing. The arrangements over the professional working experience requirements are not entirely clear. But, there is an expectation that you will be able to count a range of experiences, probably in minimum blocks of 6 months and in a maximum of 4 different locations. You will need to show that the work experience enabled you to acquire the specified competencies. If you do work experience, perhaps as part of a gap year, or after you have graduated, keep detailed records of what you did and what competencies you learnt. Those records may come in useful!
Fed up because this advice isn’t very clear?
I’m sorry. This is the best I can do at the moment. Keep an eye on the SRA website, they have FAQs now and are in the process of devising toolkits which should give you more advice.
As things become clearer I’ll keep on blogging!