The SRA’s proposal to introduce a Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination – public statement by the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford

The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) is proposing to introduce a Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE) for entry to the profession. There would be no requirement for someone intending to be a solicitor to complete a degree before attempting the SQE, and there would be no exemption from any part of the SQE for candidates with a law degree. The SRA argues that its proposals will improve the diversity of the profession by making it more accessible to any candidate who can pass the SQE, and that having a single examination will ensure that all entrants to the profession meet minimum standards of competence.

We strongly support the SRA’s commitment to improving access to, and diversity in, the profession. We also accept that it is appropriate for the SRA as regulator to seek to ensure that entrants to the profession meet a minimum standard of legal knowledge and professional competence that is set at a high enough level to guarantee effective practice. However, we are concerned that the introduction of the SQE will not meet these goals and may make the profession less diverse and less effective than it is at present.

We think that law firms and their clients will continue to value the skills that students develop during their law degree, including deep engagement with legal materials, analytical reasoning skills and effective written and oral communication. Most UK professions require education to degree level as a condition for entry. The solicitors’ profession in England and Wales is unusual internationally in not requiring a law degree as a condition for entry. We are concerned that the reputation of the profession in the global market for legal services may be damaged by the SRA’s proposals and that consumer confidence may be reduced.

Of particular concern is that the SRA’s proposals may mislead some potential entrants into believing that it will be possible to have a successful career as a solicitor by completing the SQE without doing a degree. We anticipate that unregulated ‘cramming’ courses will emerge, purporting to offer students preparation for the SQE, of poor quality and high cost. Students may be tempted to take these courses instead of a degree, only to find that firms continue to want to employ graduates.

We consider that the best way of improving access to the profession is to improve access to good degree courses. Our faculty already devotes considerable time and effort to this (with help and support from the profession) and we would welcome greater involvement from the SRA in this.