Paralegals who have passed a legal practice course (LPC) may now qualify as solicitors without having to complete a formal training contract, under guidance published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority this month.
The change will attract heavy scrutiny, with the Law Society urging the regulator to 'consult properly'.
Under the SRA Training Regulations 2014 - which replace the 2011 regulations - exemptions to the training contract may be granted to an LPC graduate who can demonstrate 'other assessed learning and work-based learning' through 'equivalent means' of training.
Crispin Passmore (pictured), director of policy at the SRA, said the changes are a step towards greater flexibility to qualification.
'We have been less prescriptive about educational inputs and refocused on outcomes - if an individual can show that they meet the work-based learning outcomes we have specified, without having met them under the terms of a formal training contract, we will recognise this as valid learning.'
The changes effectively mean that the formal training contract has been replaced by a 'period of recognised training'. The SRA stressed that this will be 'no less rigorous'.
However Mark Stobbs, director of legal policy at the Law Society, questioned whether paralegals would be able to demonstrate the same depth of learning as provided in the formal training contract.
'We support flexible routes to qualification. But we question whether many paralegals will be able to satisfy the new requirements. It is important the SRA consults properly on any significant changes to ensure that standards are maintained.'
In its Training for Tomorrow policy document last year the regulator proposed moving away from the academic path into the profession.
The SRA previously granted waivers to LPC graduates only if they could demonstrate 'exceptional circumstances' for not completing the formal training contract - such as their firm going into liquidation.