A senior paralegal, who works for the immigration department of London firm, Bates Wells Braithwaite has successfully achieved the status of solicitor. Robert Houchill, a fee earner with over four years of experience, applied to the Solicitors Regulation Authority under its ‘Training for Tomorrow’.
The news has been welcomed as another positive step forward in increasing the accessibility to the profession for those who have not pursued the traditional methods of training. In order to qualify, Houchill had to demonstrate he fulfilled all the necessary criteria under the SRA’s ‘equivalent means’ test, which meant supplying evidence of his work where necessary. It is by no means an easy process, nor should it be, but it does mean that paralegals who have gained a wealth of on-the-job experience will now have a more realistic chance to progress their career.
This can only be a good thing especially in areas where it is clear the lines between the work done by solicitors and qualified fee earners is continuing to blur. That said, there is nothing altogether seismic about these changes. After all, before the appearance of LPCs and training contracts, the main route to becoming a solicitor was to start your career as an articled clerk. In many ways, therefore, it seems that Houchill’s admission is a strong indication that the legal profession has gone full circle.
Perhaps just as important is the fact that hard working paralegals will no longer fall victim to the carrot dangling which used to occur concerning the promise of an elusive training contract. Furthermore, those who do not have the financial means to pursue the tradition university, law school route, will hopefully not be deterred from following a legal career.
It is also argued that the equivalent means pathway with improve the diversity of the legal profession. That those from ethnic minority groups, who have previously felt excluded from the career of a solicitor might be encouraged to enter the legal service market, can only be a good thing.
The only hesitation is the concern that the salaries of those who qualify will increase in line with those who have come through more academic means. Should a two tier system begin to develop that would only stem the progress which the SRA seeks so positively to promote.