As One Door Closes – It Shuts In Your Face. UPDATED.
Dear Mr Myerson,
Below is the text of an email which I have sent to my BVC group today, regarding a change to the law which will affect out-of-work BVC graduates. As far as I am aware, many students go onto the BVC with the mindset “I’ll give it a shot, but if it doesn’t work out, I can always transfer to being a solicitor”. As of 1st September 2010, the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority will no longer provide Certificates of Eligibility to barristers who have not completed pupillage. This will mean that they cannot sit the new “Qualified Lawyers’ Transfer Scheme” test. I suspect this will affect a large proportion of students on the BVC, who will never secure pupillage in any case.
In my honest opinion, the (now) BPTC providers and careers services at law schools should alert students to this risk, as the changes have not yet been well publicised. I would also be grateful if you could post this on your blog, seeing as many of the current BVC graduates who read it may benefit from realising that they have approximately 14 weeks left in which to secure their transfer, and avoid stumping up staggeringly high LPC fees to become solicitors on top of those fees they have already paid for the privilege of becoming ‘barristers-at-law.
The email reads:
This won’t concern those with pupillages, but read on for interest in any case.
For a number of years, a scheme has run which enables certain lawyers to transfer to becoming solicitors in the UK. The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority would grant them a ‘Certificate of Eligibility’ to sit the QLTT. This would specify the ‘Heads’ they needed to be tested on in the QLTT and any other experience they were required to gain before they could become a full solicitor. Essentially, they sat the exam, then did their ‘experience’. Once they had fulfilled the conditions of the Certificate, they could apply for admission to the solicitor’s profession – without the need for a training contract.
To be considered for transfer, applicants only had to show they could ‘practice under their professional title in their home jurisdiction without the need to complete additional education, training or assessments’. Barristers-at-law were an exception to this. Students who had passed the BVC were exempt from this criterion even if they had not completed a pupillage.
However, as of 1 September 2010 (i.e. this September), the QLTT is being replaced by the QLTS (“Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme”) [The proposed Regulations are here].
Barristers will not, any longer, be exempt from the standard eligibility criterion; all barristers will now have had to complete their full training (*including pupillage*) to be eligible to apply for transfer on the QLTS.
However! All is not lost yet. All of you who want this back-up option must apply for the Certificate of Eligibility now – before 1st September 2010. After this date, the SRA will only consider applications for the QLTS. I’m not sure when you would have to sit the actual QLTT (I imagine within a reasonable time after this), but you could finish your experience in your own time after that – as it would require on your certificate. When you finish the experience, you can then apply for admission as a solicitor.
The effects of this sea-change will be that we are left with a heightened problem of out-of-work barristers-at-law, who are thereby pushed out of a legal career altogether by the immense cost of attempting to fund the LPC themselves at a latter date and locate a training contract.
My money is on the fact that the scrapping of the QLTS scheme has not been well advertised by the BPTC providers, who are eagerly awaiting their new golden geese as of 1st September this year, many of whom had a plan along the lines of ‘I’ll give it a shot and if not, I can always transfer’.
On your collective behalf I took this up with the BSB. Obviously as a Regulator they are supposed to be the big bad Woolf (geddit?), constantly keeping an eye on you and checking for defaulters. In fact, they are cuddly and helpful. I was given the information within 24 hours. I have summarised it for your convenience below – apologies if some of it is already well known, but it seemed sensible to include everything in the one Post.
There are two routes to qualify as a lawyer in England and Wales. To qualify as a barrister, individuals have to complete the BVC (Bar Vocational Course) and a 12 months pupillage. To qualify as a solicitor, individuals have to complete the LPC (Legal Practice Course) and a 2-year training contract. On completion of pupillage or a training contract, individuals are then deemed qualified as barristers or solicitors, respectively.
Both professions have schemes in place whereby qualified lawyers are able to transfer to become either barristers or solicitors.
Qualified lawyers transferring to become solicitors in England and Wales have to undertake the QLTT (Qualifying Lawyers Transfer Test). The Law Society (now the SRA) have had a provision in place whereby an exception was made for the BVC graduates in this respect: they were considered to be ‘qualified lawyers’ and therefore eligible to undertake the QLTT and transfer to become solicitors.
In November 2008 the SRA carried out a consultation process in relation to qualified lawyers transferring to become solicitors. The closing date was February 2009. The BSB was consulted on their proposal to omit the exception made for BVC graduates to permit them to undertake the QLTT. The BSB had no objection to the SRA’s proposal. The BSB accepted that BVC graduates were not qualified lawyers and therefore should not be deemed eligible to undertake the QLTT. It is now, of course, necessary to complete pupillage in order to describe yourself as a Barrister.
The SRA’s proposal was based on the proposition that the new scheme should ensure parity with the domestic route to qualification. It should be noted that LPC graduates were never eligible to apply for the equivalent transfer to become barristers as they were never considered to be qualified solicitors. If LPC graduates decided to become barristers, then they were required to undertake the BVC.
The LSB (Legal Service Board) approved changes to the QLTT scheme in March 2010. The new QLTT regulations come into effect in September 2010. As of this date, BVC graduates will no longer be able to apply for a certificate of eligibility: as stated above, they are not considered to be qualified lawyers. Only BVC graduates who have completed pupillage will be eligible to apply to transfer to become solicitors under the SRA’s qualified lawyers transferring scheme.
Therefore, BVC graduates who wish to transfer to become solicitors will first need to complete the LPC. The SRA is in the process of considering whether any exemptions should be granted to BVC graduates from the LPC, and if so, from which aspects of the course.
It has been brought to the BSB’s attention that some BVC students were considering transfer under the pre-September 2010 rule, and that the new rule (put in place by the SRA) now makes it impossible for them to do so. It was said that the change was not widely publicised by either the SRA or the BSB. In addition, students were critical of the BVC providers who did not make them aware of the forthcoming changes.
Because this is an SRA decision, it is a matter on which the SRA should be contacted. Further information about the new scheme can be found on the SRA website http://www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/press/LSB-approves-new-qualified-lawyers-transfer-scheme-regulations.page
Thus, the straightforward answer is that there isn’t much that can be done: the rule was changed, approved by the LSB, and the BSB supported the change. As of 1st September it will be in operation. Get your application in before that date if you are thinking of transferring is perhaps a piece of advice that could be given to those who qualify. As to the BVC Providers: it can properly be said that they are entitled to assume that you aren’t doing the BVC so that you can qualify as solicitors and they aren’t obliged to commit commercial hari-kari by giving you information which may be irrelevant but which may damage their own interests. On the other hand, morally they ought to make clear that the qualification they offer is not now a route into the solicitors’ profession, particularly as that represents a change to the previous position. In my view you can properly ask them to do so and I cannot conceive that they would refuse.