The SQE is a revolution which American law schools should learn from, says US legal education expert

By Polly Botsford

Mark Cohen, a US expert on legal practice and an early entrepreneur around legal process outsourcing, has told Legal Cheek that the US legal education system should take its lead from the the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).

He said: “To understand today’s world, legal education providers have to be more agile, more diverse and inclusive. You need different roads to Rome and the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) new super-exam is trying to accomplish those objectives.”

Cohen (pictured top) believes the new SQE will mean law students will not have to sit in “expensive classrooms” and that “online opportunities” will reduce debt, open up the profession and lead to law schools updating themselves. He continues:

The SQE will force universities to make their curricula contemporary and adapted to market needs. It will give ‘the academy’ a strong nudge towards modernisation.

Earlier in the week, Cohen penned a full-blown critique of the US legal education system in Forbes magazine. In this, he argued that the US should follow the British in creating an independent regulator as it has with the SRA, which came into existence a decade ago this year. He also said the US should follow the British in its “reboot” of legal education: “By providing a more open-ended, non-monopolistic (if not elitist) choice of paths to licensure, SQE represents an overhaul of British legal training.”

Crediting the SRA with having the courage to lead the revolution, Cohen argued:

It’s time the US legal industry had an independent regulator like the SRA. That would serve the public and lawyers well. It would also shake up legal education that is crazy costly, outdated in its curriculum, out of touch with the marketplace, and seemingly indifferent to a majority of graduates that lack practice skills, confront bleak job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.

Of course, in the US education really is “crazy costly”: a typical law student may have around £100,000 of debt by the end of their studies. Though the figure is not quite so dire here in the UK (yet), cost is a key issue in any training reform.

The SRA has been keen to stress that the SQE should lead to cheaper legal training.

This week, an independent report commissioned by the SRA on the impact of the SQE on diversity also has a few things to say on the subject. It reported:

Increased competitive pressures are likely to be introduced by the SQE, with an expectation this will drive down costs, potentially lowering this financial barrier for trainees.

Read the report in full below:

Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).pdf

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