The number of solicitors from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland requalifying in England and Wales soared by an amazing 1383% ahead of last September’s changes to the transfer regime for foreign lawyers, Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) figures have revealed.
Some 1,460 Irish solicitors requalified in the year to March 2011, compared to just 77 in the 12 months to March 2010.
Under the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme, which started on 1 September, Irish lawyers no longer enjoy the automatic exemption they had under the Qualified Lawyer Transfer Test that it replaced.
Irish solicitors still receive an exemption, however, if they can show that, through prior learning and experience, they satisfy the ‘day one’ outcomes which are the standard for solicitors qualifying through the domestic route.
The changes were subject to an application for judicial review  by the Law Society of Ireland, which was stayed pending further discussions.
The SRA’s quarterly performance report said that but for this surge, the number of solicitors admitted to the roll in the year to March 2011 would have fallen 11% compared to the previous year, rather than the 5% increase that was actually recorded.
The report provided encouraging signs for solicitors’ disciplinary trends. In the year to March, there was a 16% drop in sanctions by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and a 36% fall in the number of interventions in law firms (down from 92 to 59). Dishonesty was suspected in 20% of interventions, compared to 33% in the year before.
However, the level of outstanding claims against the Solicitors Compensation Fund continues to climb, up to £183m, some £88m more than the same time in 2010. “This is due to an increase in the average claim amount,” the report said. Even though the number of claims fell to 661 in the first quarter of 2011 – compared to 793 the previous quarter – the value of claims is more than double the previous quarter (£38m against £18m). In all, there are 2,226 live claims against the fund.