No law degree required for would-be solicitors

Legal training overhaul would promote diversity and cut costs, regulator says

October 17, 2013

Solicitors will no longer need to have a degree in order to qualify under a radical shake-up of legal training that it has been claimed could spell the “death” of some law undergraduate courses.

The changes, outlined in a policy statement from the Solicitors Regulation Authority this week, aim to make it cheaper to qualify as a solicitor and to attract a greater diversity of people into the profession.

Currently, the main route to qualification is for a student to take an undergraduate law degree followed by a legal practice course, or a graduate diploma in law after a bachelor’s degree in a different subject.

This is then followed by a two-year training contract in a legal firm.

But according to Julie Brannan, director of education and training at the SRA, this route is a “straitjacket” that “doesn’t really fit with the modern world”.

This was because there were a “greater variety” of institutions offering legal services and more paralegal and specialist roles within firms, she explained, so a degree-only route “no longer seems appropriate”.

Instead of requiring solicitors to go down this university route, they would be able to qualify simply by demonstrating that they have the “skills, knowledge and attributes” required of the profession, she said. “We don’t mind if you have a law degree or not. It’s none of our business.”

The SRA had not decided exactly how it would assess potential solicitors, she explained, or who would test them on their skills. It might still require them to have undertaken a period of practice before they can qualify, she added.

The shake-up would “open up the market for competition”, she said.

This meant that universities could find “exciting new ways they can reach students they wouldn’t otherwise reach” and help them “overcome the financial barriers” by offering less expensive legal courses, for example higher level apprenticeships, she added.

Nigel Savage, president of the University of Law, said that the reforms could mean “the death of some turgid law degrees that have developed over the years”.

But Peter Crisp, dean of BPP Law School, cautioned that the degree route would still remain the main way people qualified to become a solicitor. “Most solicitors will continue to qualify by the traditional route,” he predicted.

Apprenticeships might be taken up by some, he said, but major law firms would continue to take graduates because they wanted them “oven-ready” for work and did not necessarily want to train them.

He added that BPP was working with a number of law firms to develop a new legal apprenticeship course.

Ms Brannan argued that currently there was no way of knowing what level students had reached at the end of their course, but a standardised test would ensure that “everybody who goes through that is at the same level”.

The current university-based route will operate until 2017-18, she said, while the new assessment system would be phased in beforehand.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations