The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), which will come into force in September 2021, is the new assessment that all individuals must qualify as solicitors in England and Wales.
The SQE has been proposed in light of the recent changes made to the qualification system. It is expected that the SQE will ensure that the same high standards are being met before qualification by all aspiring solicitors, regardless of the route they have taken. This applies to law and law-graduates, apprentices, and overseas lawyers.
The SRA hopes that the SQE will help to demonstrate that no one qualification route is better than the others. This will help to maintain public confidence in legal professionals.
The new system
Under the new system, those who wish to qualify as a solicitor will have to:
- Have a degree (or an equivalent qualification)
- Pass the SQE assessments
- Complete two years’ qualifying work experience
- Meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements
Candidates are not required to complete all of these elements in any particular order.
The SQE exams are divided into two stages:
- Stage 1 – the functioning legal knowledge assessment. This part includes two tests with 180 multiple choice questions each that cover the main principles of the law.
- Stage 2 – the practical legal skills assessment. This part tests various legal skills in the context of several practice areas.
Candidates must pass the first stage before they can attempt the second stage. They are allowed to attempt each stage of the SQE three times during a six-year period and must also complete the two stages within that period.
The SQE assessments are administered by a single provider, Kaplan. They are offered in multiple locations across the UK while some assessments are also offered internationally.
The cost of sitting SQE1 is £1,558 and SQE2 is £2,422. These costs do not include preparation courses.
The new route is much the same as the old system on three of the four stages. The other main difference apart from the introduction of the SQE, is that the work experience required will now become more flexible compared to the traditional training contract.
Most solicitors in the past have completed a two-year training contract at a law firm. Other types of experience will now count towards this requirement, such as placements secured while at university or the work you do as a paralegal. This is to help a more diverse range of candidates qualify as solicitors.
However, candidates must have the opportunity to develop the competences expected on a newly qualified solicitor throughout the qualifying work experience period.
Should you do your LPC now, or wait for the SQE?
The SRA has put in place transitional arrangements for candidates who have started the old route prior to the introduction of the SQE.
The transitional arrangements apply to candidates who, before 1 September 2021, have completed, started, accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit for one of the following:
- the Common Professional Examination (CPE) / Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
- the LPC.
- the training contract.
If you fall within this group, you can choose whether or not to qualify under the old route or to take the SQE, as long as you complete the qualification process by 31 December 2032.
If you have completed, started, accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit by 21 September 2021, a qualifying law degree, you will also have until 31 December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor under the existing route.
If you start a law degree or postgraduate conversion course in September 2021 or after, you may no longer qualify through the LPC route and must take the SQE.
A few things to consider
If you’re at university already and wondering whether or not you should wait for the SQE to come into force or whether you should go ahead with the LPC (and the GDL for non-law students), here are a few things to consider:
- Are you happy being part of the first few years when they might need to deal with a few teething problems?
- Have you secured a training contract?
- The SRA expects the SQE to be cheaper than the LPC.
- You could use the time before the SQE is rolled out to gain some valuable work experience which will help your applications stand out from the crowd when applying for your first full-time role. Some of this might also count towards your Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
- If you complete the LPC in one year and then start your training contract, you can qualify within three years of starting the LPC. The SQE exams can be completed in one year, and if you have already obtained the relevant work experience, you could apply for admission immediately afterwards.