Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Board has agreed to introduce a common assessment for all entrants to the profession in England & Wales from 2020, called the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). It consists of a two-stage assessment of knowledge and skills. Once it comes into effect there will be no need for students to undertake a Graduate Diploma in Law or a Legal Practice Course. Students will gain entry to the profession if they can pass the assessment, have a degree or equivalent qualification or equivalent experience, have completed two years qualifying legal work experience, and be of satisfactory character. SQE will transform professional legal education in England and Wales and affect undergraduate education as well.
Globally, legal regulators are taking ever greater interest in the regulation of legal education, and particularly the assessment of educational outcomes and standards. The subject is a controversial one for both the profession and the academy. It goes to the heart of many contextual issues such as outcomes-focused regulation, the systemic independence of both academic and professional education curricula, the creation and maintenance of both academic standards and professional competence, the rising costs of legal education in HE, and the wellbeing of students. In the USA, for instance, there is a substantial body of literature around the State Bar Examinations, their content, structure, efficacy, and their effects on social mobility, diversity and much else, and the alternatives to them in various jurisdictions. In Ontario the Law Society of Upper Canada is currently conducting a consultation with stakeholders on the subject of Licensure in which Licensing Examinations is a key topic. The Law Society of Hong Kong recently began a general review of legal education in the jurisdiction after commissioning but not publishing a report on Common Entry Examinations in Hong Kong.
The SRA’s consultation processes and the data and arguments that have surfaced as a result are an interesting case study of common entry assessment to the profession, and in this paper I shall be examining the educational case for and against the SQE, and for such assessments generally in legal education. Will the SQE impose yet another layer of regulation upon undergraduate legal education? Will it improve professional standards? Will it encourage or suppress innovation in education? In the presentation recent examples of common entry assessments in law and their alternatives will be analysed, and the alternatives to common entry examination that regulators in other professions such as medicine have evolved when dealing with many of the same contextual issues facing the SRA.