Back in 2015, the first ever ‘equivalent means’ trainee qualified as a solicitor. He’d been a paralegal for five years, rather than doing a training contract. But what does the term ‘Equivalent Means’ really mean? And can it help you qualify?
The facts are straightforward – there are more applicants than training contracts every year, and with more and more people taking the GDL - it means that not everyone can continue to qualify through the traditional route.
The legal market is changing, therefore.; and the qualifications have to change to meet the requirements of that market. The Equivalent Means system was set up to reward those who carry out the same work as a trainee would, whilst not necessarily being on a training contract.
What this means, then, is paralegals. Huge numbers of aspiring solicitors without training contracts are turning to paralegal work in order to try and secure it the year after, which is fine in many ways, but seems to be going round the houses to get to a destination.
The SRA have recognised this, and also recognised the fact that paralegals, depending on their department and the type of firm they’re working in, often complete work which is equivalent to, and sometimes beyond, that of a legal trainee.
In this regard, it’s hardly surprising that paralegals have long been crying out for someone to recognise the work that they do and to allow them to use the experience they have gained to attain further promotion and attainment.
To become a solicitor as of the current moment, the SRA requires you to have completed two distinct stages:
- Academia: Either a qualifying law degree (LLB), or a non-law degree followed by the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
- Vocation: The Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Professional Skills Course (PSC); and either a training contract; or a period of recognised training, approved by the SRA.
This period of training can be achieved through not only a training contract, but also through the achievement of ‘knowledge and skills outcomes’.
What this means, to the layman, is that an LPC graduate who has been working as a paralegal for a good amount of time, can apply to the SRA for a permit which exempts them from having to do a training contract and allows them to qualify as a solicitor.
To be applicable, candidates must have attained experience in, at the very minimum, three different areas of English and Welsh law. Whilst there has not been an exact length of time specified by the SRA, the suggestion is that at least 2 years of experience will be needed for a candidate to succeed.