The SRA legal reforms you need to know about
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is the independent regulatory body of the Law Society of England and Wales. It regulates solicitors, registered foreign lawyers, registered European lawyers, trainees and students, and law firms in England and Wales. Since January 2012 it has also become a regulator of alternative business structures (ABS). It regulates in the public interest and is responsible for protecting consumers by setting and enforcing standards.
The role of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)
As a regulator of legal services, the SRA:
- sets qualification standards
- approves and monitors training organisations and their performance
- sets and monitors compliance with the rules of professional conduct
- provides authoritative guidance
- administers the roll of solicitors.
In order to practise, all solicitors need to be admitted to the roll. Under current regulations, to be eligible to apply for admission you must have satisfactorily completed:
- the academic stage of training (ie, a qualifying law degree, the graduate diploma in law (GDL) or the common professional examination (CPE)
- the legal practice course (LPC)
- a period of recognised training
- the professional skills course (PSC).
This is known as the domestic route to qualification. Alternative routes may be available to those who have qualifications from the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) or who have already qualified in another jurisdiction. You must also satisfy the SRA that you are of the right character and suitability to be a solicitor. As part of this, you must obtain a satisfactory standard disclosure from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
Future lawyers: be aware of these regulatory reforms
The SRA is transforming the way it regulates for the benefit of consumers and in the public interest. The SRA will focus on the high-level principles and outcomes that should drive the provision of legal services for consumers. This is now contained within one handbook. The SRA, in conjunction with the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and CILEx Regulation, commissioned a fundamental review of legal education and training. The following information sets out the current requirements for admission as a solicitor. If you are planning on becoming a solicitor through the domestic route outlined above, you need to complete the LPC or demonstrate that you have met the SRA’s requirements for this stage by ‘equivalent means’. Before enrolling on the LPC, you need to satisfy the provider that you have met the academic requirements for admission.
Period of recognised training – the new name for training contracts
The period of recognised training is a period of supervised, recognised training with an SRA-registered training establishment (eg a firm of solicitors, local authority or legal department within a commercial organisation). It usually lasts for two years, but can be completed over a longer period if working or studying part time. During this time, you will be expected to develop your understanding of legal practice and of the responsibilities you will take on when you are admitted to the roll. The following criteria must be met during your period of training:
- You will gain experience in at least three areas of law and develop your skills in contentious and non-contentious areas of practice. The SRA’s Practice Skills Standards set out the extent and level of the experience that you will need to gain.
- You will need to keep a record of the work you have done and the skills you have gained.
- You will have informal performance reviews with your training principal or supervisor.
- You will have at least three formal appraisals over the training period, at which you can discuss your development and progress.
Periods of recognised training can also be achieved by equivalent means provision. The SRA monitors training establishments to ensure that the quality of training is adequate. As a result, during your period of recognised training you may be asked to complete a questionnaire about your training and your firm/organisation.
The role the SRA plays in your qualifying as a solicitor
Approximately 12 weeks before you are expected to complete your period of recognised training, you will receive an application form and guidance on how to apply for a standard disclosure from the DBS. Eight weeks before the expected completion of your training, you will receive an application for admission form, in which you must prove that you have satisfactorily completed your training and the PSC, and obtained a satisfactory disclosure from the DBS. There are two admission dates each month and applications must be received at least 28 days before the date on which you wish to be admitted. Once admitted, you will have to complete ongoing training in order to maintain your competence. You must complete a certain amount of this continuing professional development (CPD) training each year. From Spring 2015 you have the option of fulfilling the CPD requirement under the SRA’s new approach, which does not include a mandatory hours requirement. The new approach will become a requirement from November 2016.
How the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) affects aspiring solicitors
The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) – commissioned jointly in 2011 by the SRA, the BSB and CILEx Regulation – was the first fundamental review of education and training requirements across regulated and non-regulated legal services in England and Wales for decades. The purpose of the LETR was to ensure that the future system of legal education and training is effective and efficient in preparing legal service providers to meet the needs of consumers. The LETR research team published its report in June 2013. In response to the LETR, the SRA is developing its Training For Tomorrow (T4T) programme. T4T includes the CPD changes described above, and development of a ‘competence statement’, which will set out the competences required for practice as a solicitor.
How to contact the SRA
This is a broad outline of what you need to do to start your career as a trainee solicitor. If you need more details, please visit the student section and trainee section of the SRA's website where comprehensive student and trainee sections include the training regulations in full, a list of training firms and organisations, institutions that provide academic and vocational courses, and more. If you need to talk to someone, call the SRA’s contact centre on 0370 606 2555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The SRA works closely with the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) throughout the year in hosting events for students and young lawyers, such as webinars, to help address some of the issues they face.
This content was written by the Law Society and first appeared in TARGETjobs Law 2017, available free from your careers service.