In the UK, Law School Becomes Optional in 2020

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 02, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If James Bond were a law school, he would be 'shaken, if not stirred' by Britain's regulators right about now.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has ruled that law school will no longer be necessary to become a solicitor in 2020. Instead, prospective practitioners will need to pass a competency-based exam.

For students of the law, it is a reason to toast because it should save them the high cost of legal education. For law schools, it is a major wake-up call.

"The exam will not spell the end of traditional legal education in the UK -- no doubt many aspiring solicitors will opt for some form of traditional legal study," says Mark Cohen for Forbes.

Competency and Experience

However, Cohen said, the exam will put pressure on schools to update outdated legal curricula and to reduce law student debt. The new test is designed to ensure new solicitors have core competency and practical experience, he said.

The Solicitors Qualification Examination (SRE) tests competency and experience that can be acquired inside or outside a university. Applicants can acquire the experience through apprenticeships, jobs that demand critical thinking, online learning, and other practical experiences.

To pass the exam, applicants must demonstrate:

  • Basic competency in client interviewing, advocacy, case analysis and legal research
  • A degree or equivalent qualification or experience
  • Completion of at least two years of legal work experience
  • Satisfactory character and suitability

In addition, candidates must have basic knowledge of property, contracts, torts, and other core laws.

Across the Pond

Unlike the United Kingdom, the United States prefers a self-regulating system for law practice and legal education. According to Cohen, the American Bar Association has rejected a UK-like regulatory authority three times. He says an American conversion would serve the profession and the public.

"It would also shake up legal education that is crazy costly, outdated in its curriculum, out of touch with the marketplace, and seemingly indifferent to a majority of graduates that lack practice skills, confront bleak job prospects, and are saddled with six figure debt," he said.

American law schools have been losing money through enrollment attrition for years, and they have responded by lowering admission standards, offering financial incentives and even seeking to change bar exams. In California, for example, law school deans are lobbying to lower the test's cut-off rate.

For now, American law schools are not going to follow the British lead on legal education reform. That would be like Ethan Hunt conceding a car chase to James Bond, and we know who has the cooler car.

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