Tuesday 25 June 2013 by John Hyde
Law courses should be tailored to allow non-graduates a direct route into the solicitors' profession, Charles Plant, chairman of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said today.
He was responding to the report of the Legal Education and Training Review, published this afternoon, which says more flexibility must be brought into the system.
Plant (pictured) told the Gazette he was 'all in favour' of a return to the days of the direct intake of school-leavers and a three-year exempting degree model to reduce the cost of qualification.
'There is a very strong view from all sides that non-graduate entry has to be seriously looked at again,' he said.
'At present if it's a graduate entering the profession it means the majority of students will have a loan of £30,000 just to have obtained a degree. Then there is the LPC or a two-year course and more borrowing.
'If you go straight into a solicitors' firm, as used to be the case after A-levels, you're not incurring those debts.'
Non-graduate entry qualifications and alternative training contracts would be central to the SRA's discussions about its response to the LETR, Plant confirmed.
Plant said the LETR, the first sector-wide review for 42 years, would disappoint those who were looking for 'fireworks' such as the abolition of the training contract.
'It's certainly not bringing forward sensational headlines [but] I don't think it's a damp squib. It's highlighting areas for stakeholders and regulators saying you need to inject more flexibility into courses to achieve specific outcomes which will ensure quality.
'We need to have a hard look at the two-year training contract and parts of the LPC again. We need to think of every conceivable way people can get on courses and continue to make a living. It could change the system significantly.'
Plant said colleges and universities should provide more information to people entering the profession about their chances of securing a training contract. The LETR notes that aspiring solicitors 'spend considerable sums in pursuit of a career that they are never likely to achieve'.
'Far more information should be given to students so they are aware and informed,' added Plant, a former partner at international firm Herbert Smith. 'Even at 18 it could be that people don't understand what the problems might be in obtaining a training contract.'
But Plant revealed that the SRA is unlikely to endorse an aptitude test for students applying for a place on the LPC.
The Bar Council has already proposed a test for the bar professional training course (BPTC) to improve the quality of learning and save prospective candidates the cost of sitting an expensive course they are unlikely to pass.
But the LETR concludes that it is not clear the benefits of aptitude testing outweighed potential costs and risks, and it calls for a 'moratorium' on their development.
Plant added: 'I suspect [the SRA] view will be we do not wish to see an aptitude test as there are issues over equality and diversity.'