The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is pushing ahead with its plans to deregulate the training of solicitors, despite objections from their professional body.
The Law Society argued against scrapping the rule that trainees must have experience of contentious and non-contentious work, and against abolishing requirements on course providers similar to those imposed by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).
The SRA launched its ‘Training for Tomorrow’ consultation in December last year, as the first step in its response to the findings of the Legal Education and Training Review.
It would shift the regulator’s role from prescribing pathways to qualification to setting out ‘day one’ skills and knowledge, and allowing much greater flexibility in how that is achieved.
The SRA would no longer require trainees to complete their training under the terms of a contract specified by the regulator.
Of the 36 organisations and individuals that responded to the consultation on this issue, the SRA said that 72% supported the change.
However, the regulator admitted that 10 of the 26 who were in favour only agreed on the grounds that the training regulations were incorporated into contracts between providers and trainees.
The Law Society said that although it had no problem in principle with the removal of the specified SRA contract requirement, its main concern was “that the protections, remedies, and rights available to trainees are not reduced, and that the trainee’s status as an apprentice is not called in to question”.
The regulator replied that the contract between trainee and training provider was a contract of apprenticeship and “subject to an implied term that the training provider will educate and train the apprentice in the practical and other skills needed to practise the trade or profession for which he or she is being trained”.
The SRA said that “normal operation of employment law” would provide trainees with adequate protection and an express provision was unnecessary.
“We also consider this approach to be consistent with a key objective behind this proposal – to withdraw from involvement in the employment relationship between trainee and training establishment and refocus our regulatory interest in the quality and standards of training.”
The Law Society was completely opposed to removing the requirement for trainees to have experience of contentious and non-contentious work, and those requirements which the SRA said simply duplicated those applied to higher education institutions by the QAA.
However, the society supported abolishing the current exemption arrangements for trainees and restrictions on the number of trainees each firm can train. It also backed scrapping the requirement for certificates of completion of the academic stage of training to be issued by the SRA.
Julie Brannan, director of education and training at the SRA, said: “Overall, the proposed changes to the regulations were welcomed by most of those who responded, although in some cases support was on the basis that the SRA would provide clear and accessible guidance.
“We will be publishing guidance at the same time as we implement the new rules on 1 July, if approved.
“Two broad themes have emerged in the responses to this consultation – assuring the standards of those entering the profession and the requirement for a breadth of training which includes both contentious and non-contentious work, as required by the practice skills standards.
“Both of these issues are relevant to the work we are doing on developing a competence statement for solicitors and a new approach to continuing competence and will be considered there.”
The SRA said the changes would be put to its board meeting on 21 May, and that if it and the Legal Services Board (LSB) agreed, would be implemented in time for the 2014 academic year.