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SRA chief defends new super-exam

10 January 2019

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The Solicitors Qualifying Exam will “improve standards” and “give greater confidence in the solicitor qualification”, the chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority said last month.

Paul Philip (pictured) flagged the pilot of the new qualification as a priority for the coming year, saying, “high professional standards start with training”.

Speaking at the regulator’s Compliance Officer Conference 2018, Philip said he had “no doubt” that introducing the “centralised assessment”, which will be piloted in March, would improve standards.

“It will give the profession, lawyers and the public confidence that all aspiring solicitors have to meet the same high standards at the point of entry”, he said.

He said it would level the field for candidates entering the profession from different backgrounds, whether they have a law degree, a non-law degree with a conversion, a CILEx qualification or an apprenticeship.

“Regardless of the way in which
 you get into the profession – this will improve standards, it will give greater confidence in the solicitor qualification and it will allow people who have come through non-degree or non-graduate entry the opportunity to prove their worth to profession and to the public”, he said.

Dubbed the ‘super exam’, plans to introduce the SQE in 2021 have been met with dismay by many in the profession.

Contrary to the improved access Philip claims the exam will offer, critics have said it risks closing doors to less privileged candidates.

In an editorial for The Times last month, vice-president-elect of the Society of Legal Scholars and dean of Durham University law school Thom Brooks raised concerns.

He said, while the multiple choice exam would be easier, and cheaper, to mark on a large scale it was not the best method of assessing ability. “Potential is better captured through a diversity of assessments. Putting all eggs in a single basket gives an advantage to the students who need it least”, he explained.

Brooks claimed not to have met a single lawyer in favour of the new qualification and urged the industry to challenge the SRA “before it is too late”.

Applicants for this year’s stage 1 pilot will be contacted by the SRA to let them know if they have been successful this month.

The pilot will run over two and a half days on 20-22 March, with candidates required to attend for the whole period.

Those that complete the pilot will receive £300, while candidates in the top 10 percent will receive an additional £200.

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