By Legal Futures’ Associates BARBRI Altior 
With the route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales changing from 2021 amid much industry debate, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has recently announced that the way civil and criminal Higher Rights of Audience (HRA) assessments operate is also changing. But what do these changes mean for those looking to practice advocacy in the higher courts? Jody Tranter, head of BARBRI Altior  explains.
The good news is that the changes to the HRA assessment aren’t insurmountable. However, following the SRA’s public consultation and autumn announcement, unfortunately, if you are a trainee solicitor, you will no longer be able to undertake the HRA assessment until you are qualified. When you qualify as a solicitor or register as a European lawyer (RELs) you are granted rights of audience in all courts in England and Wales. But to be able to practice in the higher courts on behalf of your clients, you must first successfully pass the HRA assessment.
What are the changes to the HRA assessments?
The changes were announced last autumn and officially come into effect in February 2021. But rest assured, those who qualified under the previous scheme will not have to re-take the assessment. Let’s break down the changes and what they mean for you.
Firstly, the SRA has reviewed the standards for both civil and criminal higher rights and the new assessment criteria will be implemented from February 1 onwards. This now means that although trainee solicitors will be able to undertake training in preparation for the HRA assessment typically as part of the PSC, they will be unable to formally undertake the assessment until they are qualified. Also, the pass criteria are changing. Formerly candidates needed a cumulative pass mark made up of their written and practical assessments, however from 2021, they will now need to achieve a 60% mark or higher on both separately to pass.
How do I qualify for HRA?
The SRA sets out the standards and training requirements for the HRA assessment and then authorises providers like BARBRI Altior to prepare and assess solicitors seeking to qualify.
Before registering, you need to consider which HRA assessment you want to pursue. There are two separate awards for HRA – criminal and civil advocacy – and each allows you to practice in the specified courts only. When you’ve decided which award you’d like to tackle, or perhaps even if you’d like to undertake both, make sure you choose a reputable, accredited provider. Investigate how the preparation and assessment are delivered and the experience of the trainers involved. Also, consider how flexible the learning is in its delivery and how you will fit it around your existing work and personal commitments before making any decisions.
Of course, you may already have experience in advocacy. However, many delegates who are already familiar with advocacy choose to take at least the written or practical training course before taking the assessment. While the changes to the HRA standards shouldn’t present competent solicitors with any huge challenges, the new standards are more far-reaching, and you could be assessed against any of them.
What are the benefits?
By taking the HRA qualification, you are investing in and expanding your skill set, making you more valuable to both your employer and clients. By being able to see a client’s litigation through from start to finish, you’re able to offer better value to your clients and assure them you’ll be with them every step of the way.
As well as happy clients, this is of course more profitable for your firm too, not to mention it will be an opportunity to market your services for a competitive advantage. On top of the obvious benefit of higher earning potential, qualifying to exercise higher rights also boosts your professional status and reputation.
Delegates who qualify for the HRA say the experience has also helped them improve their advocacy and communication skills in general across all courts, as well as their knowledge of evidence and ethics for use in wider litigation. We’ve already seen that many savvy solicitors are using furlough and quieter times during lockdown to up-skill and expand their career opportunities, realising that in times of economic uncertainty this will set them in good stead come what may.
For more information about the HRA assessment and training, visit: https://altior.co.uk/