The SRA’s new consultation on the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) is now out. I will read it with interest. I note with a little frisson of amused dismay that the SRA is praying in aid of its proposals polling from the general public. It appears, the general public were asked all of three questions:
- As part of the process of qualifying as a solicitor, solicitor should have some training in the workplace.
- Everyone should pass the same final exam to become a solicitor, regardless of the type of training they do.
- I would have more confidence in solicitors if they all passed the same final exam.
To spell it out they have commissioned polling with leading questions, and which the public can be expected to have very limited insight into or informed view on. It’s not that the public’s voice is unimportant, it is just that if we asked a random group of strangers these questions we would almost always expect them to answer in the affirmative. Especially when, as appears to be the case here, they are not presented with any meaningful alternatives. If we had asked a different question: do you think the SRA should concentrate on checking the basics or on ensuring solicitors are genuine specialists, for instance, we might have got a different – perhaps more interesting – answer.
The data adds almost nothing to the debate and yet the SRA seem to be trying to close down the discussion somewhat by a rather self-serving appeal to public opinion. I say this as someone who is in favour of the importance of workplace training and sees merit in some degree of centralised assessment prior to admission. It is as if the SRA are trying to close their mind to debate on these issues by praying in aid public polling while saying to everyone else that they should open their minds to change. It is not an impressive position. And for all that they may huff and puff self-righteously about the public interest when critics point out the weakness of this data, I would wager that they know that this is not worthwhile research, but politics pure and simple.