Online law school bursts onto scene for SQE

Savage: We’ve started afresh

An online-only law school entered the market yesterday to deliver the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), with heavyweight backing from leading academics and lawyers.

The College of Legal Practice – which is looking to take advantage of the liberalisation of the training rules for solicitors – will also in time offer courses for qualified lawyers, including in leadership and management.

The college is a wholly owned and funded subsidiary of the College of Law Australia and New Zealand, a not-for-profit group not to be confused with what is now the University of Law. It trains 5,000 students a year in Australasia and south-east Asia.

The college is partnering with BARBRI, best known for training lawyers to prepare for the US bar examinations, which it said mirrored the SQE. The new regime is set to go live in September 2021. That will be the college’s first cohort.

Professor Nigel Savage – one-time head of first Nottingham Law School and then ULaw – is the interim chief executive of the college, having advised the parent company since 2014.

Dr Giles Proctor, currently head of the law school at the University of Roehampton, will become the permanent chief executive on 1 February 2020.

Richard Clark, former executive managing partner of Slaughter and May, and Isabel Parker, chief legal innovation officer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, have been appointed as non-executive directors.

A statement said the college has been established in response to the introduction of the SQE; the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s new Standards and Regulations, which offer “huge flexibility in terms of work placement (sweeping away many of the old training contract restrictions)”; and the many disruptive influences on the market, including technology, disaggregation, expectations of new entrants to the profession, client expectations, and alternative legal providers.

It said: “The college will be fully digitalised, delivering its services directly to students in their homes and workplaces. Not only is this model sustainable, it also democratises access to the profession by being location agnostic and is likely to be significantly more affordable than the established providers.

“The college is fundamentally committed to supporting social mobility in order to provide opportunities to students that otherwise have been disadvantaged by the current regime underpinned by the training contract.”

In addition to preparing would-be solicitors for the SQE, the college’s SQE practice programme will also provide training programmes of up to between two and 12 weeks to help them with transactional understanding, core competencies and business skills.

Subjects will include commercial law, employment law, intellectual property, personal injury and core business skills.

The college said that the LL.M “replacement” for the legal practice course (LPC) that other institutions were planning was “not devised for the future, but rather, from necessity”.

It said such courses were based on the existing business model of the incumbent LPC providers. “Moreover, an LPC LL.M is typically predicated on an academic calendar that does not mirror the SQE timetable.”

The college said its courses were “purpose-designed for the digital environment”, using multi-media content, current legal knowledge resources, interactive learning using demonstrations, simulated practice tasks and tests.

“Learners will be able to submit internal and client-facing outputs for review and evaluation from one of our experienced England & Wales practitioners, with multiple opportunities for live and on-demand video and written developmental feedback.”

Professor Savage said: “I believe we are uniquely positioned to create a new and genuinely 21st century approach to education in this sector. The new SQE will create a sea change in legal training, and has provided the impetus for this change, but significantly the college doesn’t have the baggage of the old LPC.

“We’ve started afresh, and in so doing are creating a flexible relevant proposition that removes barriers to entry for students and candidates and will fulfill our aim of significantly broadening access to this profession. Our proposition will enable legal service providers to shape career development to deliver to their strategic priorities.”

Neville Carter, chief executive of the parent company, added: “The hallmark of the Australian model is delivery of learning directly into the workplace within a very flexible framework of work placement.

“The model drives access to the legal services market and fuels the growth of employment opportunities.

“We believe that the reforms in England and Wales provide an opportunity for us to share what we have learnt in Australia and across Asia and assist in shaping new models and pathways in England and Wales.”

Sarah Hutchinson, BARBRI’s managing director, predicted that the training would not only prepare students to pass the SQE, but also give them “the skills and competencies necessary to make an immediate contribution to a profitable practice”.

She added: “With our combined network, we feel there is a real opportunity to make the English solicitor qualification much more accessible in global markets.”

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