To recap, in order to qualify as solicitor under the SQE you must meet the following 4 requirements:
1. Have a degree in any subject area (or equivalent qualification or work experience);
2. Pass both stages of the SQE Assessments (SQE1 and SQE1);
3. Have two years full time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience (QWE); and
4. Meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements.
This article is to help students understand the SRA’s character and suitability requirements and, in particular, how an Assessment Offence (also known as an Academic Misconduct) and other conduct and behaviour could prevent an aspiring candidate from qualifying as a Solicitor.
Unfortunately, we are seeing an increasing number of students involved in Assessment Offences and this could have a serious impact on their ability to qualify as Solicitor.
Character and Suitability
Individuals applying for admission to the roll of Solicitors must be of satisfactory character and suitability.
The ‘SRA Assessment of Character and Suitability Rules’ clearly sets out the factors the SRA take into account when considering character and suitability and both you (as an aspiring solicitor) and a Solicitor confirming your QWE have a duty to provide relevant information to the SRA when making a decision. The SRA will, therefore, consider any information available to it and take into account ‘criminal and other conduct and behaviour’.
An Assessment Offence falls under the ‘other conduct and behaviour’ that the SRA would be expected to be notified of by a candidate or the supervising Solicitor (at a University law clinic) when they confirm your QWE.
Part 2, Rule 4 of the SRA’s Character and Suitability Rules defines an Assessment Offence as follows:
‘You have committed and/or have been adjudged by an education establishment to have committed a deliberate assessment offence, which amounts to plagiarism or cheating, in order to gain an advantage for you or others.’
Examples of academic offences which would be referred to the SRA include, but are not limited to:
1. Plagiarism – This is the copying of words or ideas of another and presenting them as your own. Note that this is more than just poor referencing and academic practice but the copying of whole paragraphs and sections;
2. Cheating – An example of this is copying from another student or using prohibited materials in written or electronic format during an assessment;
3. Collusion – This is where students work together to complete an assessment that should be taken independently. All students involved will be held liable;
4. Commissioning or Contract Cheating – This has become increasingly popular and involves a student paying an essay writing service or other person to write their work for them;
5. Representation – This is where a student resubmits a piece of work which has been previously submitted for an academic credit (for example in another module). The point here is that you cannot submit the same work twice even if you are the author.
6. Breach of the Student Learning Contract – This is a catch all provision which includes students who may violate the Student Learning Contract that they are subject to with their educational provider. An example includes a student uploading or selling the University’s learning materials (lecture notes, assessments, power-points, handouts etc.) to sharing platforms such as Stuvia, StuDocu and Facebook. This has become a popular way to earn easy money but is quickly discovered by the University.
Other Issues To Be Aware Of:
In addition to Assessment Offences, SQE candidates should be mindful of the following:
While it may seem obvious to a law student that they should not be involved in the commission of a criminal offence, it is important that aspiring solicitors be hyper-aware of their conduct at all times.
With the current cost of living crisis and pressures on households, it may be tempting to fare doge or shop lift, but to do so will end your legal career before it has started. Be particularly wary when using self-check-out machines as mistakes can be easily made while trying to check out in a hurry. Always take the receipt and ensure you have scanned all items and paid for them.
Qualifying Work Experience
In the context of work experience, we have also read stories of paralegals who under pressure have been involved in back dating documents or confirming documents have been correctly witnessed when there are clear inconsistencies in the signing process.
Such actions to a young ambitious paralegal may seem like you are helping your employer by smoothing the wheels of a transaction but by doing so you are confirming that something has happened on a certain date/time/manner, when in fact it did not. This is dishonest and should your actions be discovered (as they have a habit of doing so as files are often reviewed for quality assurance) you will be subject to disciplinary proceedings by the SRA. It is likely your employment will be terminated by your firm and you will be unable to work in a legal environment again. If you are unsure of what to do during a work transaction always refer to the matter to your supervising solicitor (in writing) and document your actions in a file attendance note.
Remember whether you are a student or paralegal you are subject to the SRA’s Rules of Character and Suitability, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your reputation, integrity, honesty and character are all part of the qualification criteria and you must meet these high standards should you wish to join the legal profession as a Solicitor.
Sunit Tejura is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Roehampton Law School and leads the Law School’s SQE Foundations Course. Prior to joining Roehampton University he worked at Kaplan for seven years teaching on their Legal Practice Course, Graduate Diploma in Law and writing multiple choice questions for the Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme (the precursor to the SQE). Sunit is a qualified Solicitor (England and Wales) and Attorney at Law (New York).