Possible routes to qualifying as a solicitor for those who would find it difficult to undertake the normal university degree and subsequent stages are being given a fresh look by the Law Society of Scotland.
The Society has opened a consultation on possible new ways to ensure that education and training requirements are flexible and promote equal access to the profession, without compromising standards.
More than 95% of the solicitors who qualify in Scotland each year do so via the LLB degree and Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (PEAT 1) route, followed by a two year training contract, and while the Society acknowledges that there are criticisms made of each of thse stages, it believes the general consensus to be that this route produces high quality junior solicitors.
However, it acknowledges that although the cost is relatively low compared with other countries, the length and cost of this route are still "prohibitive" to some, and the possible alternatives not sufficiently flexible.
Fewer than 20 people each year undertake either the pre-PEAT training contract (training while working in a solicitor's office and taking certain exams), effectively replacing the LLB as a precursor to the Diploma and training contract, or the non-PEAT training contract, a three year traineeship with exams, allowed only in exceptional circumstances as a replacement for the Diploma and two year traineeship.
"We believe that a fair assessment of the current system is that it does drive excellence within the legal profession but the route to qualification is not particularly flexible and does not promote equal access as well as it might", committee convener Jane MacEachran states, introducing the consultation.
The paper seeks to assess the level of demand for alternative routes, particularly among those who recruit (or who might recruit) trainees and the newly qualified, before asking for views on four possible levels of flexibility:
- merging the pre-PEAT and non-PEAT options above into one six/seven year process, with the possibility of this new route becoming a degree-level apprenticeship;
- introducing a PEAT 1 entrance examination for non-Scots law LLB candidates, to avoid those with an English or Northern Irish LLB having to take the accelerated Scots LLB in addition;
- introducing an exam-based distance study route organised by the Society which replicates the LLB and the Diploma, since the present alternatives are in effect only open to those already working in the law; and
- introducing a transition test for registered paralegals to become solicitors, as those holding registered paralegal status sometimes look for either their experience to count towards part of a traineeship or for clearer guidance on how to implement the transition to solicitor.
In a blog on the consultation, the Society's head of education Rob Marrs comments: "We understand that the route to qualification is of the utmost importance to the badge of solicitor. We will not make changes lightly. We believe though that it must be possible to have numerous ways to qualification without diminishing standards. If you agree with that, please fill in the consultation. If you disagree with that, please fill in the consultation. We want to see debate on this issue and we want a bumper response."
Click here to access the consultation. The deadline for responses is 31 March 2017.