Five associations representing law lecturers and academics have urged the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to delay the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
In a letter to SRA chair Anna Bradley, the associations argued that young people under 18 were being asked to make “potentially life-changing decisions” about their future career with “only fragmentary information” about how they might go on to qualify as solicitors.
They pointed out that the SQE, due to be introduced in September 2021, does not yet have regulatory approval from the Legal Services Board, and the SRA does not intend to apply for it until this summer.
“We do not know exactly when this will be or when a decision will be made. As it stands, major aspects of the examinations remain uncertain – including for example, how and when skills will be assessed.
“The SRA does not plan to report back on their pilot of part of the examinations until the summer – perhaps not until immediately before they apply for approval.”
The associations said that under Competition and Markets Authority rules, they were under a duty not to mislead students.
“The problem is that no one knows for definite whether the SQE will be introduced, or what it will look like, until after regulatory approval has been given.
“The plans could be rejected, they could be postponed, or the SRA could be forced to radically change them.
“No university is able at this stage to tell students how or if their university education will prepare them for the assessments, and none are able to fully answer questions from prospective students about their choices.”
The letter to Ms Bradley was signed by Caroline Stevens, head of Portsmouth Law School, who is chair of the Association of Law Teachers, and Professor Carl Stychin, director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and chair of the Committee of Heads of University Law Schools.
The other signatories are Professor Adam Gearey from Birkbeck University of London, secretary general of the Association of Critical Legal Scholars; Exeter University’s Professor Rebecca Probert, president of the Society of Legal Scholars; and Professor Rosie Harding of Birmingham University, chair of the Socio-Legal Studies Association.
They said that “hundreds of thousands of students” were starting to research their futures, with prospectuses going online this spring and open days in the summer before UCAS applications opened in September.
“Tens of thousands of these young people (as well as more mature students) will look at the combination of academic rigour, critical thinking, potential career opportunities and professional accreditation, and decide to undertake a law degree.
“Unfortunately, it is currently impossible for these applicants to make an educated decision, in the light of any aspirations for a career as a solicitor, about the choices available to them.”
The letter concluded: “Young people under the age of 18 are making potentially life-changing decisions with only fragmentary information available, on a complex issue on which even universities cannot effectively advise them (and of which most school or college careers advisers are unaware).
“We therefore urge the SRA to announce a delay now, to ensure that young people making these vital decisions have the information available to make their choice.”