The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has published a report into its work-based learning pilot scheme, as part of its efforts to overhaul the way that solicitors are assessed and trained, paving the way for the development of alternative routes to qualification.
The SRA's Work Based Learning (WBL) scheme was initiated in September 2008 to develop a “consistent and reliable method” of assessment which would enable prospective lawyers to qualify as solicitors without completing a traditional training contract.
The Report, produced for the SRA by The Institute for Work Based Learning at Middlesex University, found the pilot had been successful in its approach to assuring quality.
Seventy nine students took part in the pilot, of whom 70 passed following completion of the course in December 2010.
The candidates were either nominated by legal firms who had already agreed to take them on for training as solicitors, or candidates who volunteered for the scheme and who were already employed in legal firms or in-house legal departments in legal roles which would not otherwise have led to qualification. In both cases they were assessed either internally by their employer or by an external provider against a set of eight learning outcomes involving practical legal experience.
The report made a number of recommendations to ensure that, if adopted, a work-based learning route would adequately assess trainees' competence whilst achieving its aim of broadening access to the legal profession. These included:
- Further work on setting out the skills and attributes for qualifying as a solicitor;
- The development of progressive steps of achievement linking the Legal Practice Course, the vocational stage and Day 1 competencies;
- Better articulation of the learning outcomes necessary to show competence;
- Consideration of a credit system to assess incremental learning and to open the door to more flexible routes to qualification and transfer between professions;
- The retention and development of the portfolio as a learning journal;
- Training of key professionals in coaching and assessment within a work-based learning framework;
- The continuation of the bold moves in widening participation through exploring an accredited learning scheme for prior learning;
- Addressing barriers to entry at secondary school level when choices of university, courses and future careers are still being formed.
Dr. Susan Bews, Chair of the SRA's Education and Training Committee, said: "The work based learning pilot has been extremely valuable and we are very grateful to those firms and trainees who took part in the exercise. The work will improve the rigour of our assessment processes, and has the potential to offer a wider range of trainees the opportunity to complete their training through alternative routes.
"There are two continuing strands to the pilot involving paralegals and the combined route where a single provider is responsible for the law degree, LPC and assessment which will be finalised in 2012. We now have a firm basis on which to develop our work further and this will be fed into the overall Education and Training review which we, the Bar Standards Board, and ILEX Professional Standards are undertaking."