Monmouthshire LS President's Letter (April 2016)

I will first flag up an important “Save the Date”. The Monmouthshire Law Society Summer Ball will take place on Friday 24th June 2016 at the Celtic Manor Resort. More details will follow very soon, but in the meantime, please put that date in your diaries; it promises to be another excellent night.  

We have responded to the SRA consultation on how solicitors qualify. I was part of the Cardiff Law Society’s special interest group that considered this in detail and we have, in the main, adopted their excellent piece of work as our response. I initially saw some sense in a common examination, allowing us to have a consistent and fair way of testing the competence of all of those wishing to enter the profession, by whatever means. However, having listened to the views of those in the special interest group and considered it in detail, the proposed Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is not fit for purpose and I am firmly against it.

I agree that it was appropriate to review the situation, in the light of the different pathways into the law, but the existence of new routes to qualification is not in itself a reason for change. The SRA have provided no real evidence that the alleged drivers for change exist. As a Society, we wholeheartedly agree that the most talented candidates must have an opportunity to qualify as solicitors, but it is for the new entrants to achieve the existing standards and not for the bar to be lowered to allow them into the profession. We believe that the LPC remains the best way to provide extremely valuable skills for our younger lawyers and to test them, and this must not be lost or diluted.

There are currently many opportunities for young lawyers to enter the profession. The market is already driving down the cost of qualification, as there are flexible options available to enable students to study the LPC part time and earn while they learn.  No indication has been given as to the cost of the SQE and any associated crammer courses, but the suspicion is that it may prove to be more expensive than the current arrangements and therefore further limit access. We believe that the Law Society should take over the entry into the profession and the standards of the profession generally. This must include the monitoring of both the standards at universities offering the LPC and the standard of the period of recognised training provided by law firms to ensure quality and consistency.  The current proposals risk damaging the brand of solicitor in England and Wales and how it is perceived abroad and create a potential risk to the public. The SRA’s piecemeal approach to the consultation process is unhelpful. They should have incorporated the period of recognised training and also the qualifications required to sit any common exam into this consultation, rather than stating that it will be the subject of future consultations. I hope that the SRA listen to and act upon what has been described as an “avalanche of concerns” over the SQE.

As a part of ASWLS (The Association of South Western Law Societies of which Monmouthshire is a constituent member) I attended a meeting at Chancery Lane in March with Catherine Dixon, the CEO of the Law Society, and the President, Vice President and Junior Vice President of the Law Society. The meeting was to raise the concerns that we have as a group of local law societies and to establish how we can effectively collaborate with Law Society in the future and have a say in the forthcoming governance review. We were very well received and we felt that they listened and noted the issues we raised. The biggest issue the Law Society is facing is that of regulation, they are fighting for their existence in their current form. They want to be seen as thought leaders in the media rather than perceived as wanting to maintain the status quo. They highlighted the ludicrous current situation, which is that the highest qualified have the greatest regulation whereas the least qualified have little or no regulation and yet we compete in the same market - which cannot be right. Their solution is that SRA (or similar body) should regulate the legal market generally and monitor basic standards that all must achieve - but the Law Society should regulate solicitors and the higher standards that differentiate us. I see a lot of sense in that approach and I hope it is adopted.

I would also like to announce a major new sponsor for the Society - Acorn Legal Recruitment. We look forward to partnering with them and benefiting from their support over the course of the year. 

Our new membership rates are being well received.  If you haven’t already joined please take advantage of our new corporate rates and new category of “Associate Member”. Contact me for more details.

Forthcoming events - we will be holding a First Aid course for (Level 2 Award in Emergency First Aid at Work) on the 20th April 2016. Due to a group discount, the cost of the course should represent a significant saving, so any firms with staff requiring first aid training should contact me a soon as possible in order to book onto the course. We also intend holding our first “Partners Forum” shortly, details of which will be available soon. n

 

Clive Thomas
President of Monmouthshire Incorporated Law Society
clive.thomas@watkinsandgunn.co.uk

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