City solicitors voice super exam training fears

Max Walters – law gazette

City lawyers have warned that transitional arrangements for the so-called solicitor 'superexam' may need to be delayed in order to ensure firms have time to prepare for changes to training courses.

The City of London Law Society (CLLS) said trainees joining its member firms in 2022 and 2023 will have the option of qualifying under both the existing system and under the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) depending on when they started their undergraduate degree and whether or not they studied law.

'The combination of the differential treatment of law students and non-law students, and the long lead time for trainee recruitment, has a significant practical impact on our member firms,' the CLLS said in a consultation response.

The CLLS said City firms select trainees approximately two to three years before the start of their training. It added that for practical reasons firms are likely to require all trainees from 2022 onwards to qualify under the new system, regardless of whether or not from the SRA's perspective they are still able to qualify under the existing system.

Under current proposals, non-law students who begin a degree in 2017 and graduate in 2020 and non-law students who graduate in 2019 but do not immediately enroll on a graduate diploma in law will only be able to qualify through SQE. However, law students who begin their degree in 2018 and non-law students who graduate in 2019 and immediately enroll on a GDL will be able to qualify under either the existing system or the new system.

'If clarity is not available … then we would urge the SRA not to set the reference date for the transitional arrangements as the date of the introduction of the SQE, but instead extend it to a later date, being at least 12 months after the date of the introduction of the SQE,’ the CLLS added.

Hannah Kozlova Lindsay, chair of the training committee at the CLLS, told the Gazette: ‘Running two different systems in a single intake is unlikely to be practical for law firms. Given a high percentage of training contracts is in the City of London, it will potentially have an impact on a significant number of trainees and firms.

'Based on the information we have so far on the SQE, there may be significant differences between how trainees are currently trained and will be under the new system. An example would be that, under the new system, trainees may be taking stage 2 of the SQE during the period of recognised training, potentially requiring them to take time out of the office to prepare for the examinations, while those who are qualifying under the current system tend to complete the major examinations before joining the firm.'

The CLLS has also called on the Solicitors Regulation Authority to give assurances that at least 12 months will pass between the finer details of the exam being announced and the exam being formally introduced so that firms have sufficient time to prepare for the work-based training element.