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Weekly News Summary – 2nd May 2017

Welcome to your weekly The Lawyer Portal news summary. This post will cover the main legal stories from 24th April to 1st May. The new universal Solicitors Qualification Exam that has been proposed by the SRA has dominated legal news this week. Other legal news stories include the Leigh Day professional conduct hearing and the new Linklaters “work-life balance” initiative.

SRA
The SRA have announced that the brand new route to solicitor qualification will be fully implemented by 2020.

The SRA have announced that the brand new route to solicitor qualification will be fully implemented by 2020. On Tuesday 25th April, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced that the new Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) will replace the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC).

The SRA first outlined its plans in late 2015 and has now given the new route to qualification the go ahead, despite heavy criticism from the legal profession. The new regime will come into force in 2020, although the original plan was to roll out the exam by 2019.

The SQE is designed to address several issues. It is aimed to decrease the cost of qualifying as a solicitor while increasing diversity in the profession by recognising more alternative routes to qualification. It is also hoped that a standardised exam will ensure consistency and increase public trust in solicitors. However, many legal professionals, law students and legal academics believe that the SQE could create more problems than it solves since the SRA have not divulged any details on how the entire process will work. There will now be four stages to solicitor qualification:

  1. An exam testing academic ability to state and apply the law;
  2. An exam testing legal skills to be taken following a ‘qualifying period of training’ (similar to the practical skills currently taught on the LPC);
  3. At least two years qualifying legal work experience;
  4. The SRA character and suitability test.

Students who have already started a law degree, GDL or LPC by the time the super exam is implemented in 2020 will have a choice of whether to follow the old route or to take the new SQE.

Find out more about the SQE here

UK law firm Leigh Day has denied attempting to mislead an inquiry into mistreatment of Iraqis by the British military at a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing. The Al Sweady Inquiry was set up in 2010 following a High Court case to investigate alleged mistreatment of Iraqi civilians by UK soldiers. In 2014 the inquiry found that allegations were “wholly unfounded” and false.

The lawyers at the leading firm Leigh Day, who acted for the Iraqi claimants, have since been accused of allowing false claims of murder and torture to be made against British soldiers over a period of seven years. Specifically, the firm is accused of failing to disclose a document known as the ‘OSM list’ which revealed that the principal claimant as well as nine others were all Iraqi resistance fighters from the Mahdi Army and not the innocent civilians they were portrayed to be. Outlining the case against Leigh Day, Tom Dutton QC argued that had the list been disclosed, the £29 million inquiry “would have taken a very different course”.  

The drawn out inquiry undoubtedly caused great distress to the families of Iraqi and British soldiers alike. Leigh Day earned fees of £9.7 for representing the Iraqi claimants and reportedly ignored the list because the lead claimant was central to the success of the case.  The firm is also accused of paying bribes to agents in Iraq who referred further claimants to them. Patricia Robertson QC acting for Leigh Day has argued that the failure to recognise the significance of the ‘OSM list’ was a mistake rather than a deliberate act of dishonesty. The tribunal hearing is due to continue into next week.

Magic circle law firm Linklaters are offering associates in their German offices the opportunity to work fewer hours for lower pay. Many aspiring solicitors worry about the stereotypically long hours associated with the legal professional. City firms in particular have a reputation for antisocial and potentially unpredictable working hours. However, Linklaters have introduced a scheme which allows its associates to opt for a 40-hour week. Participants of the scheme will be able to pre-agree set times to arrive at and leave work in return for a lower salary.

Unlike their colleagues on the “classic” Linklaters career path, associates on the “YourLink” programme will only have to answer calls or emails outside of the office in exceptional circumstances. The “classic” career path offers a salary of approximately £100,000 pa, while the “YourLink” associates will receive around £67,000 pa and will have the option to opt back into the classic path at any time.  The initiative is currently only a pilot programme being tested in Germany but could be a another step towards achieving a better work life balance in the legal profession.

Words: Mariya Rankin

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