By Legal Futures’ Associates Flex Legal
There’s a lot to unpack with the SQE, but here at Flex Legal we’re hugely excited about the possibilities it offers juniors in the legal industry. Accordingly, we’ve tried to cover as many of the recurring questions as we possibly can in this blog post. If you haven’t read it already, we’d also strongly recommend you take a look at our SQE Explained blog post.
This post is broken into three larger sections:
- SQE Overview
- Comparison to existing systems
- Qualifying Work Experience (SQE)
Let’s get right into it!
What is the SQE?
The Solicitor’s Qualifying Examination (SQE) is the SRA’s new qualification system for solicitors and lawyers. From the 1st September 2021, securing a Training Contract will no longer be the only way to qualify. You can instead complete the actions on this checklist:
- Have an undergraduate degree in any subject.
- Complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
- Pass the SQE1 and SQE2 exams.
- Meet the SRA’s “suitability requirements”.
When is the SQE launching?
It’s already started! The SRA is already encouraging people to keep track of their QWE, and are launching a process for submitting it to them in Spring this year. The SQE1 and SQE2 examinations themselves will start in Autumn 2021. Here is the SRA’s more detailed breakdown:
Will the SQE be cheaper?
Yes! Aside from any study fees, the total cost to complete both SQE examinations is £3,980. This is obviously very different to the conventional LPC route, which can cost up to £17,000 with no guarantee of a training contract.
Prep courses and studying options for the SQE are available, and BARBRI are offering prep courses for graduates at a cost of £2,999.
What will the SQE1 and SQE2 examinations test me on?
SQE1 is designed to test your “functional” legal knowledge. It will consist of two multiple-choice tests dealing with broad legal rules and principles. You can find a more detailed breakdown of this on the SQE1 Assessment Specification page on the SRA website.
SQE2 is designed to test your “practical” legal skills, and can only be attempted once you have passed the SQE1. More specifically, it will be a mixture of written examinations and oral role-plays, and will test six key skill areas: client interview and legal analysis, advocacy, case and matter analysis, legal research, legal writing, and legal drafting. Again, you can find a more detailed breakdown on the SQE2 Assessment Specification page on the SRA’s site.
Comparison to existing systems:
I still want to qualify via the existing routes. Can I do this?
This depends. If you are hoping to qualify via the LPC route, you can still do this as long as you meet certain criteria. Fortunately, these criteria are fairly generous. By the 21st of September 2021, you must have completed, started, accepted an offer on, or paid a non-refundable deposit for one of the following:
- A Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) / the Common Professional Examination.
- The Legal Practice Course (LPC).
- A period of recognised training (also known as a training contract).
- A qualifying law degree or an exempting law degree.
Anyone who falls within this group will have until 31 December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor under the current routes, as long as courses still remain available.
Will the SQE replace the GDL?
Yes. The SQE will completely remove the requirement for non-law graduates to complete the GDL. This being said, there will once again likely be variations of this course offered.
Will the SQE replace the LPC?
Eventually, yes. Once again, this comes down to the transitional period. During this period, both routes to qualification will be offered. Once the transitional period has passed, the SQE will replace the LPC.
Will the SQE replace training contracts?
Eventually, yes. Once the transition period is over, the SQE will replace training contracts as a requirement to qualify as a solicitor. Some organisations will still continue to offer these, but once the transition period has finished trainees will still be required to pass the SQE to qualify.
How will the SQE affect those qualified using the CLIEx route?
The SQE will open a new route to qualification for anyone qualified as a CILEx with full practice rights. A CILEx Level 6 qualification will count as equivalent to the undergraduate degree requirements to the SQE, and CILEx work experience can count towards your two years of QWE. This being said, both SQE examinations will still need to be passed, along with the suitability requirements.
Will the SQE replace the QLTS for foreign qualified lawyers?
Eventually, yes. The introduction of the SQE will take place over a ‘transitional period’. Once the transitional period has passed, the SQE will replace the QLTS. However, anyone who has already passed the QLTS will not need to complete the two years QWE. You can find more detailed information about this on the SRA’s QLTS transition page.
Where can I study for the SQE?
Preparation courses for the SQE are not compulsory. However, preparation courses will help prepare you for the examinations, and will increase your chances of passing.
There are a range of postgraduate SQE1 and SQE2 preparation course available. BARBRI, The University of Law, The College of Legal Practice and BPP, are all offering full time and part time preparation course options. Additionally, some undergraduate law courses will now likely include SQE1 preparation as part of the degree.
How long will the SQE take?
This depends. The SQE is designed to be flexible, and the rules of when and where you complete the SQE and QWE reflect this. The only real time constraint is that the SQE1 must be completed before the SQE2, which must be completed within 6 years of passing the first examination.
How many times can the SQE be taken?
I already have the GDL / LPC. Can I still do the SQE?
Yes. If you have completed the GDL, you are able to qualify through the full SQE route. You will just need to pass SQE1, SQE2, and your 2 years of QWE.
If you have completed the LPC, you can change course and qualify via the SQE. You will only have to complete SQE2, and your two years of QWE.
Qualifying Work Experience (QWE):
What is QWE?
Qualifying Work Experience is any legal services experience that exposes you to ‘Solicitor Competences’. These are basically things a qualified lawyer should know, or knowledge a qualified lawyer should have. As you accrue QWE, you should be checking them off. Fortunately, your Professional Development journal lets you match each of your journal entries to this framework easily.
You can find the full breakdown of Solicitor Competences here on the SRA website.
How much QWE do I need?
You will need two years worth of full time qualifying work experience, or the part time equivalent of this.
Where can I obtain QWE?
The SRA is fairly generous with what constitutes QWE. Generally speaking, QWE can be obtained anywhere as long as your role deals with providing legal services. This means it doesn’t just have to be law-firms or in house teams. You can obtain QWE through pro-bono charity work, by volunteering at a legal clinic, by getting legal experience as part of a degree, and more.
Additionally, QWE can be obtained overseas, as long as it is confirmed by a solicitor or COLP that is regulated by the SRA.
Does my QWE have to be from one role?
No! The SRA are once again fairly generous with this. QWE can be obtained in up to 4 organisations. There is no prescribed length of time for each placement, so you are free to mix and match as you see fit. As long as it all adds up top two years worth of QWE, the SRA should accept it.
How do I know my QWE is correct?
Your QWE has to get confirmed (signed off) by a supervisor! Each QWE journal entry you make against a Solicitor Competency has to be approved by a Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP) or solicitor that is regulated by the SRA. They will ultimately decide whether your experience is valid. If anything in your QWE journal entries needs correcting, they will just send it back to you with notes.
Can I submit QWE before taking SQE examinations?
Yes. The SRA are planning to launch the process for submitting QWE in Spring 2021. There is no definitive order that you must complete the SQE-route requirements in.
Will I have to experience both contentious and non-contentious work?
No. There is no requirement for anyone obtaining QWE to undertake contentious and non-contentious work, or to work in a specified number of practice areas. Your awareness of contentious and non-contentious work will be tested in the SQE examinations, but do not need to be experienced as part of QWE.
Can I use previous work experience as QWE?
Yes! The SRA has not set a time limit on how far back your QWE can go, so you are entirely free to use previous work experience as part of your QWE. However, you might want to consider a few things if you are doing this.
Firstly, you will still have to comprehensively show that the experience is compatible with the Statement of Solicitor Competencies. This will obviously be tricker to document and evidence if your experience was some time ago.
Secondly, it will still have to be signed off by an SRA-regulated solicitor or COLP. It is a regulatory obligation for solicitors to take appropriate steps to validate the QWE they confirm. Where they cannot do this, they are not required to confirm QWE. If your experience was years ago with an organisation, and the staff have changed and no thorough records of your work exists, solicitors can rightfully refuse to approve your QWE.
Can a solicitor or COLP from a different organisation confirm QWE?
This is allowed, however they will have to take appropriate steps to make sure your experience is accurate before deciding to approve the QWE. This could involve a direct conversation with your experience supervisor. Once again, if your experience cannot be comprehensively evidenced, your solicitor is regulatorily obligated to refuse to confirm your QWE. Ideally, your QWE should always be signed off by someone with a direct first-hand understanding of your experience.