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Trainee solicitor in training session with lawyers

The SRA legal reforms you need to know about

The SRA talks you through the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) that aspiring solicitors will sit from 2020.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) regulates 170,000 solicitors and 10,400 law firms in England and Wales. It works in the public interest, protecting consumers, and setting and enforcing high professional standards. It supports access to affordable legal services, the rule of law and the administration of justice. The SRA makes sure that those entering the profession are fit to practise and meet the high professional standards the public expects. It does this by overseeing professional education and training, setting the entry standards, and checking that applicants are of a suitable character before allowing them to become a solicitor. The current route to qualification In order to practise, all solicitors need to be admitted to the roll. Under current regulations, to apply for admission you must have successfully completed:

  • 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 undertake screening, which includes a standard disclosure from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

Qualifying as a solicitor from 2020 – the SQE

The SRA is transforming the way it regulates. It wants its rules to offer the protection the public needs without hampering the growth and innovation that drives a competitive and effective legal market.
As well as reviewing its handbook, the SRA will be introducing an independent assessment called the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) from 2020. This is to make sure all solicitors meet consistent, high standards at the point of entry to the profession. The SQE will replace the current system of qualification, where multiple courses and examinations mean that neither the public nor law firms can have full confidence that qualifying solicitors are all meeting the same high standards. Almost four out of five members of the public say they would have more confidence in solicitors if they passed the same final examination. As well as building trust and confidence, the SQE should:

  • help widen access to the profession by validating different routes to qualification, including ‘earn as you learn’ pathways such as apprenticeships
  • get rid of the ‘LPC gamble’ of would-be solicitors paying large upfront costs, often up to £15,000, with no guarantee of a training contract or becoming a solicitor
  • offer more flexibility in how they gain their work experience, which could help address the training contract bottleneck.

In order to qualify as a solicitor, candidates will need to:

  • have passed SQE stages 1 and 2 to demonstrate they have the right knowledge and skills
  • have been awarded a degree or an equivalent qualification, or have gained equivalent experience
  • have completed at least two years of qualifying legal work experience
  • met the SRA’s character and suitability requirements.

However, if you have started a qualifying law degree, CPE, GDL or LPC before September 2020, you will be able to qualify on your existing route. Though you could also choose to qualify via the SQE if you wish. Please visit www.sra.org.uk/sqe for more information.

What training as a solicitor can look like

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 of solicitors.

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 noncontentious 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 providers to make sure 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 or organisation. For more information, visit www.sra.org.uk/trainees/trainees.

Qualifying as a solicitor

Approximately eight weeks before the end of your period of recognised training, the SRA will contact you about screening. Screening includes financial and identity checks plus a standard disclosure from the DBS. The fee for this is £42. Then six weeks before the end of your training, you will get an application for admission. 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 (see www.sra.org.uk/ trainees/admission/admission).

Once admitted, you will have to complete ongoing training in order to make sure your knowledge and skills are up to date and that you are competent to practice. You will be asked each year to make sure you have met the continuing competence requirements and reflected on the quality of your practice, and addressed any learning and development needs.

Get in touch

For more information on what you need to do to start your career as a trainee solicitor, please visit www.sra.org.uk/students or www.sra.org.uk/trainees. Here you will find the training regulations in full, a list of training firms and organisations, and institutions that provide academic and vocational courses. If you have any queries please call the SRA on 0370 606 2555.

This content was written by the Law Society and first appeared in TARGETjobs Law 2018, available free from your careers service.

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