Can the Solicitors Qualifying Examination help social mobility?

By Liz Walters, Policy Associate, 16 February 2016

We want to ensure that the most talented people from any background can become solicitors.

We need a diverse and representative profession to help foster high quality services and improve access to legal services for people from a range of backgrounds.

There is widespread evidence that particular groups are over represented within the profession. For instance, a recent survey of the top 50 law firms found that 4 in 5 of their trainees went to Russell Group universities.

In addition to this, solicitors who attended fee-paying schools are generally over-represented in the profession; even more so at partner level, in larger firms and in corporate work.

If the SQE were introduced:

  • All candidates would sit the same assessment - testing their competence to be a solicitor more rigorously than under the current system.
  • The SQE would level the playing field between different routes to qualification. It would provide an opportunity for people who had qualified through attending less fashionable universities or through new routes, like apprenticeships, to demonstrate that they are just as good as individuals who had qualified through traditional routes or having attended more prestigious universities.
  • The assessment would not, of itself, get rid of prior educational and social disadvantage. However it might shine a light on any differences in attainment between different groups, so we could focus attention on doing our part to address the problem.
  • Information on training providers could offer employers a new way to target their recruitment and widen their talent pool by looking beyond a narrow group of universities.

We do not underestimate the difficulty of addressing the problem of social mobility in the solicitors profession. But, the SQE could help address the problem.