Report Published on Diversity in the Legal Sector
The Bridge Group has published a report that considers the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s plans for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), and the impact it could have on diversity in the profession.
The report is available here.
The report said: “The proposals are highly likely to increase the number, and broaden the range, of training providers in the market, and provoke new models of training including online provision. Wider range of choice is an important opportunity to support diversity, since it will enable students to chart more flexible pathways. Increased competitive pressures are likely to be introduced by the SQE, with an expectation this will drive down costs, potentially lowering this financial barrier for trainees.”
The report goes on to say that it is key that good information is made available for aspiring solicitors about any new options open to them, since “wider range of choice will also make the routes to qualification harder to navigate, especially for those students without access to good advice, and a tiered system may become quickly apparent, because some legal employers will give continued (or possibly increased) currency to traditional pathways”. It says that the SRA would need to make sure there was “greater transparency of data”, so prospective lawyers could be better informed.
The report found that training providers and employers also had a responsibility to improve diversity in the profession. It added: “Reforming qualification can be a step in the right direction, but is not a panacea to address all diversity concerns; continued effort is required.”
Nicholas Miller, Director of the Bridge Group, said: “The proposal to introduce the SQE is designed to ensure consistency of standards and of competence; this is also very likely to shake up the training provider market and introduce more, and new, models of provision. These changes have the potential to support diversity through greater flexibility in training pathways, but also carry risks with routes to qualification becoming increasingly complex and challenging to navigate, and because some legal employers will give continued, or possibly increased, currency to traditional pathways. It is imperative that the SRA, training providers and employers all embrace and enact their responsibilities to mitigate for these risks and support fair and equitable entrance to the profession.”
Julie Brannan, SRA Director for Education and Training, added: “We are committed to encouraging a strong, diverse profession that is representative of the communities it serves. We welcome this thoughtful and constructive report from the Bridge Group. While our proposals to introduce the SQE are not a magic bullet, we would hope they can contribute to a more diverse profession, through addressing some of the barriers within the current system and creating a more transparent legal training market.
“We recognise the need for students to have access to reliable, independent information about the outcomes they can expect from pursuing different routes into the profession, and for employers to have access to information that could help support diversity in recruitment. Should the SQE be introduced, we would work with all partners to provide guidance and support on the changes to help entrants to the profession navigate the new system.”
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