Solicitors, consumers and businesses who took part in research for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have given high marks to its draft competence statement, which aims to define the standards needed to enter and remain in the profession.
The statement, accompanied by a ‘threshold standard’ and ‘statement of legal knowledge’, are part of the regulator’s Training for Tomorrow programme of educational reform, and has now gone out for consultation.
The competence statement is a critical element of the SRA’s aim to open up new pathways into the profession, by focusing on the standards expected at the point of qualification, rather than the route by which they are acquired.
An external research agency carried out a survey for the SRA to test its draft competence statement with 1,070 solicitors, 78% from private practice and 22% in-house, 503 individual consumers of legal services and 204 businesses.
The draft statement won high marks from all three groups, with 87% of solicitors, 87% of consumers and 90% of businesses giving it marks of between seven and 10 out of 10.
The SRA said the research company, which has not been named, also conducted an initial “scoping exercise” through 44 interviews with solicitors, academics, legal practice course providers, consumer groups and individual consumers.
These were followed by workshops including solicitors from a range of backgrounds, including sole practitioners and City firms and a range of course providers. Additional advice came from a group of eight experts in designing professional competence frameworks.
The regulator said the first stages in the development of the competence statement were conducted in consultation with the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
“We endeavoured to develop a competence statement with, so far as was appropriate, a common structure and compatible content,” the SRA said. “Our aspiration is to produce a competence statement which, so far as appropriate, demonstrates consistency of approach with that devised by the BSB for barristers, identifying differences in practice and facilitating flexibility between the two professions.”
Martin Coleman, chair of the SRA’s education and training committee, said in his introduction to the consultation paper, that all solicitors should be able to “undertake competently” core activities such as ethical behaviour, technical skills (drafting, negotiating, researching), management of work (planning, prioritising, record keeping) and working and communicating with other people.
“How these qualities are demonstrated will vary according to practice area and experience but all competent solicitors should possess them,” Mr Coleman said.
“We recognise that competence continues to develop after qualification and we have defined a ‘threshold’ level of competence that those wishing to qualify as solicitors must demonstrate.
Mr Coleman said there was also a core of legal knowledge that underpinned all practice and “which we would expect all newly-qualified solicitors to have on admission and practising solicitors to maintain an awareness of throughout their career insofar as it touches their practice”.
He said that it encompassed business law, property, torts, criminal law and process, contract, equity, constitutional and EU law, the English legal system and civil litigation.
“These core requirements have not changed very much over the years and we believe that they continue to provide the basic underpinning of legal practice,” Mr Coleman said. “However, we invite views on whether they remain appropriate.”
The Norton Rose Fulbright partner said the next step would be to consider, and consult on, how the competences were to be assessed for qualification as a solicitor and in what level of detail to specify the processes by which they could be acquired.
He added that the SRA had already demonstrated its focus on “the substance of a solicitor’s skills and knowledge, rather than process” in its new approach to CPD, where solicitors were required to undertake “appropriate professional development” rather than the regulator “continuing to formulaically mandate the number of hours of CPD that must be undertaken.”