The Legal Services Board (LSB) has given its final approval for the Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) to launch next year.
The approval was something of a foregone conclusion but it means the SQE has now cleared the final hurdle of a process that has been five years in the making.
The LSB did, however, have “areas of initial concern” but said it has received assurances from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that these will be addressed.
The SRA has therefore undertaken to conduct an initial review of the exam within two years of implementation, to commission independent research in 2021 to investigate the underlying reasons that candidates from some protected minority groups did not perform as well as other groups in the SQE pilots, to publish comprehensive guidance on qualifying work experience for candidates and firms, and to publish guidance for students on the different choices of SQE training available and data on performance in SQE assessments, as well as pass rates for candidates by the SQE training provider that they attended.
Dr Helen Phillips, the Chair of the LSB, said: “We have approved the SRA’s application because there are no grounds for refusal, and more importantly, if the regulator follows through on its commitments, it will benefit people who need legal services. The SQE should ensure consistency of standards and improve diversity access to the sector. This should help increase consumers’ trust and confidence, create a profession that better reflects society, and widen access to justice.”
“The SQE is untested, however, and not without risk. In reaching our conclusion, we have taken account of the assurances and commitments provided by the SRA, including to monitor and evaluate implementation and conduct research to understand the impact of the SQE on diversity and inclusion. We will monitor progress closely through our Solicitors Regulation Authority .
“Looking at the bigger picture, it is essential that the SQE is not seen as a panacea for the full range of ambitions that the SRA has and that we support. We look forward to seeing how the regulator develops education and training to ensure the ongoing competence of solicitors throughout their careers and maintain professionalism. If the SRA realises its objectives, it should contribute to creating a legal sector that better meets the needs of the society it serves.”
Chair of the SRA Anna Bradley said: “We welcome the LSB’s decision. The SQE will provide assurance that all aspiring solicitors meet consistent, high standards at point of entry to the profession. It will also open up new and diverse routes to qualification. Our application and the decision notice itself show just how much work over very many years has gone into making sure the SQE is a world class, rigorous assessment.”
First proposed in 2015, the SQE was originally slated to launch last year but delays have pushed it back several times. It will run alongside the old way of qualifying, the Legal Practice Course, for the time being while that course is gradually phased out.