“Deconstructed SQE” could be end-point test for three professions

Bourne: Different stripes of lawyer often doing the same work

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) could be deconstructed and its modules used to form the “final end-point test” for chartered legal executives and licensed conveyancers as well as solicitors, the boss of a leading legal apprenticeship provider has proposed.

Jonathan Bourne, managing director of Damar Training, said chartered legal executives often did “exactly the same work” as solicitors, while licensed conveyancers “usually do the same work as the other two professions”, despite the rules on reserved legal activities.

“The titles may be different but the jobs and the duties are often indistinguishable.

“The professional bodies already tacitly acknowledge this: an SQE graduate could, if they wished, easily become a chartered legal executive or a licensed conveyancer, although they generally don’t, because of the salary differential.

“There is no reason therefore why the SQE could not be deconstructed and modules used to form the final end-point test for both chartered legal executives and licensed conveyancers. Students would not need to complete the full SQE, just the parts that are relevant for their more specialised roles.”

Mr Bourne said that while few 18-20-year-olds really knew what career they were suited to or what they wanted to be doing in six years’ time, it was harder still for employers to know if they would be cut out for a job in 2028.

“And how can smaller firms even know if they will need a newly qualified solicitor that far ahead? As a result, many smaller employers and in-house teams are effectively excluded.”

Mr Bourne said the same argument in favour of “modularised end-point assessment” could be applied to more junior legal roles, such as probate or conveyancing technicians and specialist paralegal roles with their own assessment methods.

“An advanced paralegal apprenticeship with different specialist pathways would open access for paralegals in family, crime or corporate (all areas that do not currently have an apprenticeship).”

Mr Bourne said he had not come across anyone who thought this was a bad idea. But the current focus of employer-led trailblazer groups was on standalone apprenticeships, rather than “thinking about the links between different levels and apprenticeships”.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is currently conducting a review of how skills training serves the legal profession.

Mr Bourne predicted that eventually the apprenticeship system “will get to where I’ve suggested”, but he was not sure how long it would take.

He added that legal apprenticeships had done “all sorts of good things” for the legal profession but there was “real room for improvement”.

In a separate development, BPP University Law School and diversity and inclusion specialists Aspiring Solicitors have announced a new initiative to increase support for those taking the graduate entry solicitor apprenticeship route.

This route, which takes 30 months, allows law graduates and those who have completed a conversion course to gain the necessary work experience to become a solicitor, while studying for the SQE and being paid a salary. Law firms can fund the training via the apprenticeship levy.

Under the initiative, would-be solicitors in the September 2022 and January 2023 cohorts will be able to access workshops delivered by Aspiring Solicitor coaches, which include negotiating skills, influencing skills, practical networking and handling difficult conversations. There will also be careers coaching sessions.

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