The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), along with the general advancement of technology and digitalisation in the professional and educational landscape, presents challenges and opportunities for aspiring solicitors and for traditional law firms. How can law firms manage the transition to a more technological world while maintaining their traditions and culture?
We take a look at how the legal profession is evolving into the future, and how law firms can hone and adjust their training practices to support the development of the next generation of solicitors.
The future of the legal profession
The legal profession is undergoing a significant and challenging transformation – partly due to the shift towards remote working brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, but also due to the advent of digitalisation as a whole.
The increasing use and functionality of communications technology across the world has led to the growth of virtual law firms (such as Rocket Lawyer or My Virtual Lawyer) where solicitors can provide legal services remotely, sometimes on a freelance basis, rather than as an employee from a traditional “bricks and mortar” office. The rising popularity of decentralised blockchain technology makes it possible to automate part or all of a legal transaction (and even subsequent related disputes) through the adoption of “smart contracts” – coded programs that execute actions based on defined parameters or milestones in a fully secure and transparent manner. Moreover, Covid-19 itself has led to huge developments in the delivery of online education and training, making it much more accessible for someone to study in a flexible manner from the comfort of their own home.
The lawyer of the future
These technological developments inevitably mean that law firms and solicitors will need to “move with the times”. Legal professionals who are stuck in their comfort zone of traditional office-based environments and paper-based practices may soon find themselves replaced by those who embrace the “new way of working”, adjust their methodologies accordingly, and broaden their skills and knowledge base to be able to deliver quality cross-disciplinary services in an increasingly technology-enabled world. The lawyer of the future will be someone who is:
- Able to work completely independently and jointly with a group;
- Technically savvy: With more and more clients in the technology arena, solicitors who can speak the same language and have a good understanding of technical issues such as automation will be in high demand;
- Creative: Solicitors need to be able to think critically about legal scenarios and come up with the kinds of creative solutions or estimations that cannot be automated by a machine.
Digitalisation and the SQE
This shift towards digitalisation also has an enormous impact on the process for qualifying as a solicitor of England and Wales, especially alongside the recent introduction of the SQE by the SRA. The SQE offers increased flexibility and opportunity for both aspiring solicitors and law firms to shape their approach towards fulfilling the training and educational requirements for qualification.
On the other hand, the introduction of the SQE as a more flexible and arguably easier route than the previous Legal Practice Course (LPC) and QLTS routes, as well as the various exemptions to the SQE2 assessments being granted by the SRA, may also lead to challenges in terms of the sheer number of qualified solicitors expected to enter the market. It is more necessary than ever for law firms to be discerning in the type of candidate they accept into their training programmes or workforce. When assessing candidate applications, law firms will usually be expected to take the following into account:
- If you completed a law degree or LLB;
- Where you studied and your grades;
- Your work experience such as law firm internships, apprenticeships, or working as a paralegal, and whether it was within the firm or somewhere else;
- What you can prove in terms of your level of legal knowledge and skills;
- Any additional knowledge or skills you might have in other useful areas, such as languages or technology, for example;
- If you completed the SQE (one or both stages), the number of attempts you made, and, of course, your results.
For candidates, this may mean that it is advisable to proceed with sitting both stages of the SQE even if you may qualify for an exemption from SQE2.
With increased competition in the market, law firm recruiters may choose to prioritise applications from candidates who have proven their abilities through completing the full set of assessments. Many firms are also in the process of developing or updating their own apprenticeship and training programmes to include SQE preparation.
How law firms are preparing for the SQE
Many high street law firms and particularly big City law firms have already started the process of adjusting their training programmes to support their trainees in preparing for the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. Some firms are partnering with existing training providers or law schools such as BPP (e.g. Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner) or BARBRI (e.g. Reed Smith); others are joining forces to align their solicitor training programmes, such as the City Consortium (also partnered with BPP), consisting of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, Norton Rose Fulbright and Slaughter and May. Some non-law companies are also offering programmes to train solicitors who will then represent the organisation after becoming qualified as a solicitor, such as the graduate solicitor apprenticeship programme being offered by the BBC.
The law firm programmes all offer law firm jobs for students, giving candidates the opportunity to learn while gaining real-life law work experience, as well as earning on-the-job while the cost of the assessments are usually covered or reimbursed by the firm. Trainees can hone their functioning legal knowledge (FLK) before sitting the SQE1 assessments and then undergo further skills training for SQE2. The experience gained through the firm’s SQE training programme also covers the Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) criteria for completing the path to qualification.
While such hands-on law firm work experience is of course invaluable, it is important to note that the SQE is still a standardised examination.
The SQE2 assessments in particular will not always precisely reflect real-world scenarios, so dedicated training is still essential to maximise the candidate’s chances of passing the exam, regardless of their level of experience or knowledge.
Given the challenges being faced by the rise of digitalisation and the shift to the SQE route to qualification, it comes as no surprise that many law firms, especially smaller high street firms, have yet to develop their solicitor training programmes to meet the requirements of this digital age. Of course, there is plenty of time to do so – the traditional route to obtaining lawyer qualifications remains in place until 2023 for candidates who have already started on that path. Given that SQE preparation courses are not regulated by the SRA, these firms can also take advantage of the rising number of training providers offering dedicated SQE training services and tools in developing their internal programmes.
We are one such provider with years of experience helping candidates prepare for the QLTS OSCE assessments (precursor to the SQE), through a custom-built online training platform that can meet the specific needs of law firms, not only with SQE preparation, but also in terms of more general corporate training and onboarding processes.
How law firms can work with us
As we have explored above, the ideal lawyer of the future will need to be flexible, independent, creative, and have a certain level of cross-disciplinary knowledge to succeed in a digitalised world. At the same time, many traditional law firms have built their reputation and culture upon valued customs that have been passed down through generations of legal professionals. These cultural traditions and practices serve as a cornerstone of the distinguished identity of, particularly, long-established elite law firms, and it is important to be able to maintain this identity while meeting the needs of a more technological society.
Our Superexam platform is the ideal solution for law firms seeking to enhance their overall digital training capabilities and start their transition to the SQE, all while maintaining that essential sense of culture and identity.
Superexam platform: A customisable solution
Our SQE learning platform represents the state of the art in educational technology. This online platform has been custom-built to provide SQE2 training based on our active teaching approach through realistic mock stations with personalised or group feedback from expert tutors, as well as a content library, training videos and podcasts, live broadcasts, and flexible scheduling capabilities for group or individual sessions. Candidates can choose the date and time that suits them as well as the subject area and level of difficulty when booking a simulated SQE assessment. Each assessment is then graded in accordance with the SRA SQE marking criteria and detailed feedback is provided back to the candidate. Our white-label learning management system can be used for both training and simulated examination of aspiring solicitors for SQE purposes.
We are also able to widen the application of the platform to meet the specific needs of any organisation for SQE2 preparation as well as for company-specific processes such as onboarding, cultural training, or even mockups of the common kinds of cases usually taken on by the firm where trainees can practice on realistic scenarios through detailed simulations, vastly reducing the burden on supervisors, cutting down on mistakes, and improving consistency. Our SQE e-learning software system is fully flexible to meet specific needs – different types of training materials, courses and content can be easily integrated into the platform in such a way that it can serve as a comprehensive marketplace for all of the company’s internal training offerings, including any continuous learning requirements for already-qualified solicitors in the firm, domestically or internationally. The platform can easily manage the delivery and administration of training to individuals or small or large groups.
The Superexam white label platform and training approach can be tailored in whatever way is needed to suit each individual organisation, including branding and curriculum design and content. We can even tailor the platform content to suit a variety of training needs, if, for example, some of your trainees are following different routes to qualification, i.e. via the traditional training contract or SQE. We also offer content development services if needed, where we can write and implement tailored course content for SQE preparation or for company-specific mock cases etc.
While we have our own expert tutors on hand to support your training programme, we can also provide train-the-trainer services to empower solicitors within your law firm to serve as tutors on the e-learning platform and support the firm’s trainees directly. In our experience, the desire to share knowledge is an innate human quality, and we believe that tutors, trainees, and the firm as a whole all benefit greatly from the experience of exchanging knowledge from an in-house perspective.
This approach ensures that the company culture continues to be passed down through future generations of solicitors, remains consistent across locations within large multinational firms, and also gives colleagues in different countries or locations the opportunity to connect and strengthen the community ties within the firm.
The flexibility of the Superexam platform allows for the delivery of training in a way that suits the specific needs and schedules of busy tutors and trainees. Candidates can learn at their own pace, without the need for extensive supervision, and in an enjoyable manner, whether for SQE2 assessments or for firm-specific training. In a fast-paced work environment, mock sessions and feedback can be scheduled at the convenience of both trainee and tutor.
Tutors, managers, and HR and people management departments can also benefit from the insights and analytics gleaned within the system such as the candidate’s time management skills, resistance to stress, and ability to work independently.
We can work with you to determine and measure whatever metrics are most useful for your organisation.
We would be delighted to discuss the specific needs of your law firm and tell you more about how we can build a fully customised solution for your training programme and support your people in passing on their valuable knowledge to the next generation.
Contact us today to arrange a free consultation call.