The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority has announced big changes to the qualification process for solicitors in England and Wales. Here at Flex Legal , we’re hugely excited about this! The new system offers aspiring solicitors an exciting new means to qualify without trying to break through the dreaded Training Contract bottleneck.
The new system involves a few key changes to the legal education and training of anyone looking to qualify. Mainly, the GDL and LPC will be replaced with the Solicitor’s Qualifying Examination (SQE). This will ensure that all qualifying solicitors are tested at a consistent level, regardless of their pathway into the world of law.
How do the old and new systems differ?
The SQE lets aspiring solicitors qualify via a new system. The existing qualification system will remain in place, but now aspiring solicitors will have another option. Here’s a short breakdown of them both so you can see how they differ:
“Traditional” solicitor qualification system
- LLB or GDL – You must obtain a Qualifying Law degree (LLB) at undergraduate level. Alternatively, if you have studied a different subject at undergraduate level, you can complete a one year conversion Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) course.
- LPC – You must complete a postgraduate Legal Practice Course. Completion of this course allows you to apply for formal training contracts.
- Training Contract – You must complete a two-year Training Contract or ‘period of recognised training’ in law firm or with an in-house team. Read our Training Contract Guide: Different Types of Law Firms  blog post for more information.
- Apply to be registered – This final step involves applying to the SRA, and being formally admitted to the roll so you can practice as a solicitor.
SQE qualification system
- SQE1 – You must pass multiple choice examinations which assess your functional legal knowledge.
- SQE2 – You must pass written and orals examinations which assess your practical legal skills.
- Undergraduate Degree – You must obtain an undergraduate degree in any subject. Equivalent qualifications are also applicable, such as a completed degree-level apprenticeship.
- QWE – You must present evidence of two years worth of Qualifying Work Experience. This can be any relevant legal experience, with a maximum of four different employers.
- Apply to the SRA for Qualification – The final stage involves the SRA reviewing your documentation thus far, and doing a final ‘Character and Suitability ’ assessment.
Completing your Qualifying Work Experience is expected to be the most complex part of this process, as you must record your experience against the SRA’s ‘Statement of Solicitor Competence’ . Your QWE must be ‘confirmed’ (signed off) by an SRA-regulated solicitor or Compliance Officer for Legal Practice. Fortunately, the Flex Legal Professional Development Journal makes this much easier. It’s the first digital log for recording your QWE against the SRA’s competency framework. You can show how many records you have against each competency, and clearly see what your progress is!
What will the SQE exams cover?
SQE1 is designed to test your functional legal knowledge. It will consist of two tests pertaining broadly to legal rules and principles as they should be expected at a “day one” solicitor level. This does mean it will cover some similar areas as the GDL. The exams are expected to take place over two days, and will be entirely multiple choice questions. You can find a more detailed breakdown of this on the SQE1 Assessment Specification page  on the SRA website.
SQE2 can only be attempted once you have successfully passed the SQE1. The SQE2 is designed to assess your skills in six key areas: client interview and legal analysis, advocacy, case and matter analysis, legal research, legal writing, and legal drafting. These are assessed through a mixture of written examinations and oral role-plays, and are generally a little more complicated than the SQE1 examinations. Again, you can find a more detailed breakdown on the SQE2 Assessment Specification page  on the SRA’s site.
How will students be affected?
Preparing to sit the SQE
SQE1 and SQE2 are sets of exams rather than courses. There is no regulatory requirement to complete a preparation course for the exams, but doing so could obviously increased your chances of passing. There are a number pf prep course providers out there, but we would strongly recommend the BARBRI SQE prep course. Everyone on the Flex Legal platform gets 10% off their course fees!
Additionally, in future some universities will incorporate the SQE1 preparation into their undergraduate law degree programmes.
How much does the SQE cost?
Aside from study fees, the total cost to complete both SQE examinations is £3,980. More specifically, SQE1 will cost £1,1558, and SQE2 will cost £2,422.
This is obviously very different to the conventional LPC route, which can cost up to £17,000 with no guarantee of a training contract.
When will the SQE system start?
It has already started! The SRA is encouraging SQE hopefuls to start recording their QWE, and will launch the QWE submission process in spring 2021. The SQE1 examinations will first be sat in November 2021. You can find more updates about the SQE on the SRA’s website.