As we open our consultation on alternative routes to qualification as a Scottish solicitor, our Head of Education Rob Marrs sets out the background.
Shortly after joining the Society, I was tasked with speaking at a ‘Meet the Society’ roadshow in Dumfries. This is always a treat for me as so many of my family live in the town and as an added bonus it gives me the opportunity to buy some Moffat Toffee on the way home.
I was to speak about the then upcoming changes to the route to qualification. The received wisdom was ‘no one will ask you any questions. All the questions will be about Alternative Business Structures and lenders’ panels’. Those were the big ticket items of the day.
Amazingly and pleasingly all of the questions were about education and training. This was replicated in the other roadshows we did across Scotland. Everywhere we went people asked us more questions about education than all other matters combined. I learnt during those roadshows that the profession cared deeply about how people become solicitors.
So I’m optimistic, as we open a consultation on alternative routes to qualification, that we’ll get a strong response from the profession.
Most people qualify as a solicitor by travelling a well-known path: LLB, Diploma, traineeship. The changes we made five years ago to that well-known route are bedding in pretty well. Yes, we get the odd grumble about the quality of a particular trainee but the general feedback is the system produces high-quality solicitors.
There are other ways to become a solicitor, but they are essentially never utilised. That's a shame. We care deeply about fair access to the legal profession and believe that all those who have the skills, ability and desire to become a solicitor should have the opportunity to attempt to do so. We understand that the LLB, Diploma, traineeship route might not work for everyone. It is for this reason we are now looking at those alternative routes to qualification.
Would it be possible, for instance, to create an entirely work-based route to qualification – an apprenticeship route, for instance? Should there be a way for Registered Paralegals to move into the profession? Should graduates with English LLBs be able to enter the Diploma having passed an entrance exam?
I’m often asked about how the Society can make the route to qualification more flexible. That’s possible. What matters though is that the profession understands such routes – and importantly – supports them. There’s little point in creating an apprenticeship route if no one employs apprentices. There’s little point finding a pathway for paralegals to qualify if the profession doesn’t want such a pathway to exist.
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. Thank you in advance. The consultation will run until 31 March this year.