By Legal Futures Associate The College of Legal Practice
The route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales has changed. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has introduced the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) which will eventually replace the current Legal Practice Course (LPC).
In this article, we have highlighted some of the things you need to consider and common questions around the SQE to ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision about which path to qualification is best for you.
Can I choose to take the SQE or the LPC?
You can now decide to qualify under the new SQE route or take an LPC.
However, you will only be able to pursue the existing LPC and Training Contract route if you have already commenced a law degree, Graduate Diploma in Law or LPC. The cut off for starting these programmes was 31 August 2021. You will then have until 2032 to qualify as a solicitor before the LPC and Training Contract route is turned off. Even if you have commenced one of the above, you may still decide to take the SQE if you wish.
What is the SQE?
The SQE is the new qualification examination for aspiring solicitors in England and Wales.
Unlike the LPC, the SQE is not a course or study programme, but two sets of examinations.
- SQE1 tests functioning legal knowledge.
- SQE2 tests oral (advocacy and client interviewing) and written legal skills.
Do I need anything else to qualify as a solicitor via the SQE?
There are four things you will need to qualify as a solicitor:
- have a degree in any subject or a qualification or experience that is equivalent to a degree
- pass both SQE1 and SQE2
- two years’ full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience (QWE)
- pass character and suitability requirements.
The LPC or SQE? Things to consider
- Are you already a qualified lawyer? If you are, the SQE is the best route for you and the SRA will recognise your previous experience.
- Do you have a qualifying law degree? If you do, you can choose the LPC or SQE route. For both routes you will need a period of training or qualifying work experience. If you don’t have a law degree, or equivalent, you will need to qualify via the SQE.
- How much time do you have to learn? An LPC can take a full year to complete, the SQE assessments don’t need to take you the full year to prepare for, however the preparation and exams are intensive and not easy!
- What kind of learning are you looking for? You can study online, receiving individual tuition or study as part of a group on campus. There are lots of opportunities for you to find the best learning environment that fits with your individual circumstances.
- What can you afford? There is a wide range of LPCs and SQE prep courses on the market. The average cost for an LPC is higher than most of the combined costs of SQE prep courses and SRA exam fees, but it depends on the institution. You can complete Masters Programmes that incorporate either LPCs or SQE preparation with accredited providers, that are eligible for government Masters Loan funding.
- Which firms do you want to work for? Every firm has a different approach to qualification, and it will change over the next 2-3 years. Some have already integrated the SQE and QWE into their trainee programmes and others are still choosing trainees who have passed the LPC.
- Do you have any legal services experience? If you do, you can check with the SRA whether your experience counts as qualifying work experience, which will help you on the SQE route to qualification.
The SRA have a decision tree which could help you determine which route you can take.
Key facts about the SQE
- It is run by Kaplan on behalf of the SRA
- SQE1 tests functioning legal knowledge and comprises of 360 multiple choice questions, in two five hour examinations over two days.
- SQE2 tests application of knowledge and core legal skills, comprising of 14 hours of assessments split over 5 half days.
- The SQE1 assessment run by Kaplan costs £1,558 and the SQE2 assessment costs £2,422. This cost is separate from the cost of any preparation training.
- Assessments run 2-4 times a year, with the first SQE1 assessment in November 2021 and the first SQE2 assessment following in April 2022.
- You can take SQE1 in 30 locations across England and Wales. Current locations offered for the SQE2 are Cardiff, Manchester and London.
For more information on SQE assessment dates and locations visit the SRA’s website.
What is qualifying work experience (QWE)?
Practical training has long been a part of the route to qualifying as a solicitor. The idea is that real life experience of providing legal services is essential to acquire the necessary skills for practice.
It has always been necessary to complete a period of practical training in order to satisfy the regulatory requirements for entry to the roll of solicitors.
In regulatory terms, the requirements for QWE are simply stated:
- It must be undertaken over a period equivalent to 2 years full time
- It can be done in up to 4 institutions (there is no specified minimum or maximum duration at any one), and
- It must be ‘experience of providing legal services that offers a candidate the opportunity to develop some or all of the competences needed to practice as a solicitor’.
If I choose the SQE – How can I best prepare for the assessments?
Do not be mistaken in thinking that the SQE is easy!
Even with a law degree, the SQE assessments will be difficult. It is not only about legal knowledge, but the ability to identify issues and apply legal knowledge throughout the assessments. This may be the first time you will experience complex multiple-choice and oral examinations, so you will need to prepare well in both legal knowledge and examination technique.
Preparation courses are not mandatory, and you can prepare yourself for the SQE examinations if you feel confident and comfortable to do so. If you want a little help preparing for success, we offer a series of part-time and full-time courses which will provide you with the legal knowledge, examination technique and opportunities to practice your interview and advocacy skills before the assessments. You’ll have significant 1-2-1 supervision from both a personal tutor and subject matter experts to get you ready for the assessments and to set you up for a successful start to your career as a solicitor.
We’re so confident in our preparation courses that you can take the course again free of charge if you are not successful in passing the SQE assessment.
Our team are on hand to assist you to consider how and when you want to start your SQE pathway to qualification. If you have any questions or need any assistance, please contact us at email@example.com