Equivalent means: do you have it?
Equivalent means is a period of recognised work experience (such as a stint as a paralegal or within the law profession) that will mean a shorter route to qualification. Here’s a more detailed look.
What is it?
‘Equivalent Means’ is the route to become admitted as a solicitor that allows you to use learning or working experience in place of the usual requirements. Most significantly, if you have work experience equivalent to that of a training contract, then you can this to qualify for your ‘period of recognised training’ instead. This isn’t an easy shortcut, but it does make a handy alternative route possible, at least until the SQE simplifies things with its requirement of ‘qualifying legal work experience’.
The rules on Equivalent Means can be found in the SRA Training Regulations 2014. More information is available in the SRA’s ‘Equivalent means information pack’.
Accreditation of prior learning
The academic requirements can be met by Equivalent Means in the way of accredited prior learning. These are dealt with by the course providers, not the SRA.
This cannot replace an entire qualifying law degree, but it can save someone from repeating modules they have already covered. Such prior learning must be (at least) the same ‘level, standard, volume and content’. This means that degree-level modules are not equivalent to LPC modules, as the vocational taught modules build on this foundational knowledge. It must also be part of a completed degree or other certification.
A law module taken as part of another degree course (or jurisdiction) is one common way in which this occurs, but dropping out partway through an LLB doesn’t allow you to skip a module on the GDL. The other common way is that those who have completed the BPTC are exempted from some modules on the LPC.
Instead of a training contract
Equivalent Means can be used to satisfy the ‘period of recognised training’ requirement without completing a training contract. However, this is no easy shortcut: the work experience must still meet the same key requirements set out in the SRA Practice Skills Standards. It must be equivalent to the experience required in a training contract. Where trainee work has been shifted to paralegals, this is more likely to be the right standard of work.
Certainly not all paralegals are doing equivalent work to trainees, so if you’re considering this you must do your preparation and know what you need to work towards. One main difficulty is that paralegals are often only within one team, whereas a would-be solicitor must have experience of three distinct areas of law, so it might be necessary to change team or firm.
Taking this route
If you’re considering an equivalent-means route, you’ll want to be on the ball from the beginning to adequately log your training and, if possible, ensure that your work experience will fit the criteria.
Read through the Information Pack and the assessment table on the form. Gather lots of evidence as you go, such as tasks done, job descriptions, examples of work, training logs and references from supervisors. It’s possible to cover more than one area of law concurrently, but they must be distinct areas of law.
It isn’t easy to know what work is ‘equivalent’ to trainee-level work, and because this isn’t part of an established training programme the onus is on those applying to make sure they get the right experience.
Will SQE change things?
Yes! Although we don’t yet know the criteria, the SQE will streamline everything into one assessment. Instead of training contracts and equivalent means, all qualifying solicitors will have to pass the same assessment and meet the same legal work experience requirements. These are likely to be loosened slightly, making it a bit easier for paralegal work experience to be sufficient.
The existing approach will still be possible until 2031 though, so Equivalent Means is not done with yet!