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SRA mulls centralised assessment of would-be solicitors as City firm launches ‘earn as you learn’ qualification

SRA: model being tested [1]

SRA: model being tested

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has begun work on developing a “centralised assessment of competence” that potential solicitors would have to pass to qualify, it has emerged.

It comes as Mayer Brown became the first City law firm to unveil a six-year ‘articled apprenticeship’ programme that will see a student undertake the entire education and qualification process while working part-time.

In March, the SRA adopted a competence statement [2], which captures the key activities required for effective performance as a solicitor. This is at the heart of the regulator’s new approach to education and training, focusing on substantive standards, rather than process.

It has now entered the next stage of its work, reviewing the process for qualification as a solicitor and to develop a framework for assessing the competence statement prior to qualification.

The SRA has previously said that the current method of meeting standards – undertaking a law degree/common professional examination, legal practice course and period of training – needs to be reviewed because of concerns about consistency and also because of the need to enable a more flexible range of pathways to qualification to emerge.

According to the report of chief executive Paul Philip to tomorrow’s SRA board meeting, the current preferred approach is a centralised assessment of competence that all candidates would be required to undertake prior to qualification.

“[This] option is most likely to ensure rigorous and consistent standards and to liberalise pathways to qualification,” he wrote.

A possible model has been developed and testing events have been held with the likes of training providers and the City of London Law Society.

A consultation is likely to be published towards the end of 2015.

Mayer Brown is working with the University of Law on its ‘articled apprenticeship’ route to qualification, which has been enabled by the SRA’s move away from prescribing how solicitors should be trained.

The six-year scheme, consisting of a four year part-time LLB followed by the legal practice course and professional skills course (PSC) to be completed in two years, combines work and study.

In year three of the programme work will start to count towards the training contract as a period of recognised training, which will continue until the PSC is completed.

Candidates will spend their first 12-18 months in business services departments “to gain a broad understanding of how the firm operates before working within a number of practices within the London office”.

Annette Sheridan, global chief HR officer at Mayer Brown, said: “We have been working hard to introduce a programme that will nurture the talent of people who feel the traditional route to being a solicitor isn’t a viable option for them.”