Consultation paper proposal for a review of professional accreditation schemes run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority
THOMPSONS SOLICITORS’ RESPONSE - FEBRUARY 2008
Thompsons is the UK's most experienced trade union and personal injury firm, campaigning for the rights of workers from offices nationwide and this website. It has a network of offices across the UK, including the separate legal jurisdictions of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Thompsons only acts for trade union members and the victims of injury, never for employers or insurance companies. At any one time the firm will be running 70,000 claims.
Q1. Are the above objectives comprehensive and appropriate?
Yes, although, as developed in question 12 below, we have concerns with what definition is to be applied to the notion of ‘competency’.
Q2. Do you agree that a suite of accreditation schemes run by the SRA in all areas of law is undesirable?
Q3. Do you agree that the SRA’s role in accrediting solicitors should focus primarily, in the public interest, on the protection of the vulnerable client and supporting an efficient justice system?
We would though comment that within paragraph 15 of the proposed strategic framework one of the key principles is avoidance of unnecessary barriers to competition. If there is in fact going to be the creation of accreditation schemes there must inevitably be barriers to full competition in the sense that only those who are accredited will be able to compete.
Q4. Which, if any, of the SRA’s existing schemes do you think fall within the scope suggested in question 3?
We only answer this within our areas of expertise. We believe that clinical negligence, criminal law, professional negligence and personal injury should be included within the scope suggested in question 3. They are all areas in which we practice. We do not practice in any of the other areas listed in question 4.
Q5. Are there any areas of law which fall within the scope suggested in question 3 where the SRA does not currently operate an accreditation scheme?
We believe that professional negligence both in respect of personal injury claims and clinical negligence claims should be included. There is public interest to protect in respect of these type of claims and any negligence claim involves uniquely vulnerable clients in that they will have both been injured and wronged by the lawyer acting on their behalf. It is important, that in order to support an efficient justice system, they are not wronged again and that means that the lawyers to whom they go with a professional negligence claim should be accredited.
Q6. Do you think that the SRA should also operate accreditation schemes in areas of publicly funded law in order to facilitate the requirements of procurers, where appropriate?
Areas of publicly funded law should have their own systems to accredit and appraise the lawyers that are given public money. The government departments concerned should have those in place in any event and they will ultimately be subject to scrutiny by the National Audit Office.
Q7. Should the SRA be concerned with accrediting solicitors in any areas of law which fall outside of the scope proposed in questions 3 and 6?
If the criteria set out in paragraph 15 is applied consistently it would also cover employment law since there is a public interest in ensuring that there is proper representation and the clients are often vulnerable.
Q8. Do you agree that the SRA should retain the current non-compulsory approach to accreditation schemes until the issue has been fully considered as part of the wider quality assurance debate?
Accreditation is already compulsory where you want, say, a legal aid franchise and that should be the norm. If we believe that the profession should have accreditation there is no logic to it being delayed. There is an issue around how the scheme applies to new staff or those who are training which we refer to below.
Q9. Do you agree that all accreditation schemes should be based on a set of clear and transparent competence standards?
It would be difficult to conceive that it would be based on anything else!
Q10. Do you think that it is possible to identify a set of generic standards which would be common to all accreditation schemes?
In all the areas in which we act and have agreed that there should be accreditation in answer to question 4 above there are basic standards that could be applied such as competency in plain English, level of qualification and experience. Within each area there could then be tailoring to make the accreditation process specific to the field of specialisation.
Q11. Is it desirable for applicants for accreditation schemes to be assessed against these competence standards rather than on the basis of their length of experience or size of caseload?
To do otherwise would be to gift accreditation to individuals who may have very large caseloads but not be handling them well.
Q12. Do you agree that the SRA should set accreditation at competent practitioner level?
Yes in principle.
Although we have a problem with the phrase ‘competent practitioner’ as, at first impression the word hardly inspires confidence!
We believe that there should be a graduated level of competency perhaps akin to the APIL criteria of litigator, senior litigator and fellow. We do not believe that there should be an equivalent of APIL’s senior fellow level since that is based upon invitation only and is not sufficiently independent or verifiable.
Q13. Do you think that the SRA should be concerned with setting a higher or specialist level of accreditation?
We believe that there should be at least two levels as set out in answer to question12.
Q14. Do you think that the SRA should consider setting an introductory or probationer level of accreditation in some areas of law?
If we are going to encourage wide spread accreditation then there needs to be a process by which people who are coming into the profession or into a specialisation can build up their expertise and be confident if they gain a certain level of expertise that they will be accredited. As a firm with over 400 lawyers we would want to see a process of encouraging junior members of staff, even paralegals, to go for accreditation.
Q15. Do you agree that the role of the SRA, as a regulator, should be to set the standards for assessment of practitioners rather than to prescribe the format of assessments or to provide the assessments itself?
In our view the SRA should both prescribe the format and potentially provide the assessments themselves. If any other organisation is going to provide the assessments then it is important that it is a non-profit making organisation in order that there can be no suggestion that, driven by profit, they are keen to accredit as many people as possible or in some way adjust the goal posts to achieve accreditation for as many people as possible.
There should be no assumption that the current providers in the field, either SRA or APIL, are appropriate to take on the assessment process. There should be open competition for that as there are many providers, including Colleges of Law, who could be well equipped to provide the service.
It is essential that the SRA prescribes the format for the accreditation process. Colleges of Law have to meet set standards and adhere to a set syllabus. The same principle should apply to the accreditation process. There should be a set exam – we believe it should be written though it might be online – that should be followed. It may be that there are several providers rather than just one as long as they follow the appropriate process of accreditation and are accredited themselves to be able to provide it.
Q16. is it desirable for all organisations providing assessments for the purposes of accreditation to be subject to a set of common principles and standard which will be set and monitored by the SRA?
Yes, see answer to question 15.
Q17.Will a robust monitoring regime implemented by the SRA against a common set of principles and standards provide assurance that consistency is being achieved across assessment organisations and that standards are being upheld?
It will be in our view an assurance to the general public.
Q18. Do you agree that all accredited practitioners should be subject to re-accreditation after a fixed period of time?
We believe the period of time should be five years.
Q 19. Should the re-accreditation process seek to assess:
• Practitioners’ up to date knowledge only
• Practitioners’ up to date skills only
• Both practitioner’s up to date knowledge and skills
• None of the above
We believe that it should test both practitioners up to date knowledge and skills. To do otherwise would mean that as people stayed within the profession standards would slip. It is important that the standards are maintained throughout the profession at all ages and all levels.