The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has overcome a raft of concerns from the Legal Services Board (LSB) to win approval for the new Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme.
The scheme, which will be introduced in September, applies to internationally qualified lawyers and lawyers qualified in the UK seeking admission as solicitors in England and Wales. Some 26% of new solicitors in 2009 were either former barristers or international lawyers.
The scheme is designed to ensure that all solicitors in England and Wales have achieved the same standards of skills and knowledge however they qualified, and for the first time includes a separate English language requirement for international applicants.
The Office of Fair Trading told the SRA that the new scheme may help City/commercial firms by opening up the market to new jurisdictions. However, it was also concerned that it may reduce the number of transferees entering high street firms.
The LSB said that while it is not possible to judge definitively at this stage whether the impact of the changes will be positive or negative, “we are content that the SRA has followed due process, having undertaken an evidence-based review of the existing scheme, researched the potential impacts of proposed changes and undertaken robust analysis of the results. Furthermore, the SRA has consulted widely on the changes and considered tehr responses in reaching its final position”.
The LSB raised several issues about the scheme, such as whether the requirements should be less onerous for lawyers who pose fewer risks, and whether the English language requirement could create a barrier to entry, but was satisfied with the SRA’s responses. It noted that there was some opposition to the scheme, which it said highlighted the need to ensure the impact of the changes is thoroughly evaluated.
One of the SRA’s reasons for reviewing the scheme was evidence that solicitors who have qualified using the transfer route are statistically more likely than those who have followed the domestic route to be the subject of regulatory action. The LSB said this should be closely monitored under the new scheme.
SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: “We are delighted with the decision. The LSB have been constructive and helpful in giving its swift approval to the scheme. This means we can now move forward with every confidence in getting it in place by the autumn, with tests available in January 2011.”
Clare Gilligan, the SRA’s head of education and training, added: “We have consulted extensively and worked with stakeholders on the changes we were making to the existing transfer scheme and are now in the final implementation stages of introducing the new regime.
“The public here need to be confident that all solicitors, however they qualify, are competent to practise. The QLTS will ensure that all candidates are assessed against the same set of standards using practical exercises, rather than relying on experience as in the past. QLTS will also allow lawyers to apply from a larger number and wider range of jurisdictions than at present. The new scheme is objective, transparent and fair so the profession will be able to recruit with confidence.”