Barrister GC: Why can’t I sign off trainee solicitors’ work experience?

Connor: I should not have to cross-qualify just for this purpose

A general counsel has complained that she is unable to sign off the qualifying work experience (QWE) of trainee solicitors because she is a barrister.

Natalie Connor, VP Legal & Expansion at crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, described the situation as “unacceptable” and urged the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to talk to the Bar Council to find a solution.

Her original comments were made on LinkedIn, but were overshadowed by her also saying that it was harder to qualify as a barrister than a solicitor. They went viral as a result.

On the main issue, Ms Connor told Legal Futures: “I’ve been a GC in-house for the last five years and am technically qualified as a barrister rather than a solicitor, yet the SRA’s rules mean I cannot sign off on the QWE done by my paralegals who want to qualify as solicitors.

“They only need to demonstrate a minimum of two competencies during their work, which include options such as ‘Obtaining relevant facts’ and ‘Developing and advising on relevant options, strategies and solutions’, both of which I assess their abilities in almost every day.”

Ms Connor argued that she should not have to go through “all the effort and expense of cross-qualifying as a solicitor just to be able to sign off on this”, adding that the rule meant she was “arguably now disadvantaged in the GC job-market against solicitors, particularly in areas where legal teams are smaller and may only have one senior lawyer to begin with (such as disruptive tech, where I work)”.

She added: “This is totally unacceptable, and it feels as though the SRA ought to be able to work with the Bar Council to find a sensible workaround.”

An SRA spokesman said: “Barristers can sign off QWE if they are a compliance officer at a firm we regulate or dual-qualified as a solicitor. This would mean they are subject to our regulation and means we can have oversight of those approving periods of QWE.”

It is understood that the SRA put the rule in place so that it was able to act if either the trainee’s supervisor refused to sign off their QWE – which does happen on occasion – or if they signed it off when they should not have done.

On her comment about training, Ms Connor explained that she was not saying that being or becoming a solicitor was not hard, or that being a barrister was harder than being a solicitor – it was that becoming a barrister was harder because of the process of funding the Bar exams, getting and completing pupillage, and then navigating self-employment at the start of tenancy.

Reflecting on the fall-out, she wrote on LinkedIn yesterday that “a number of people were quite horrifically rude to me in response”.

She went on: “Context is everything – the context of both my posts should make very clear how highly I regard solicitors… I left independent practise to go in-house for a reason, and I now do exactly the same job (as a GC) as my senior solicitor peers.

“But context apparently doesn’t matter once the comments kick off on a post or once your remarks have been cherry-picked by irresponsible journalists looking to drive clickbait.”

She concluded: “Ironically, I probably partly have my former career at the Bar to thank for the level of resilience I’m able to reach for in the face of negativity and trolling.”

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