The SQE has provided students with an entirely new pathway into the legal profession. However, for the moment, students need to decide whether the SQE or the LPC is the right choice for them. We caught up with the ULaw National Programme Director for the SQE, Jill Howell Williams, to learn more about each route and why you might choose one over the other.
By Elena Carruthers. Published 3 June 2021. Last updated 11 January 2023.
What’s the difference between the SQE and the LPC?
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is a new, independent centralised assessment for all would-be solicitors who wish to qualify in England and Wales. There is no prescribed training course for the new SQE assessments, although law schools and training providers like ULaw offer SQE preparation courses to students to get them ready for these assessments. The SQE will eventually replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is a prescribed and regulated programme of training with assessments in core practice areas, legal skills and elective subjects, which students may also take and pass to qualify. The LPC will be phased out over the next ten years or so as the SQE becomes the only route to qualification. However, with such a lengthy transitional period, students have the option of taking either the LPC or the SQE at the moment. This quite rightly means that many students are asking - which is the correct pathway for me?
If the SQE is the newest path, why would I still consider the LPC?
The LPC will still be a valid qualification for several years, and whilst law firms and other legal employers continue to offer training contracts (the next stage required after completing an LPC), it remains a recognised way of entering the legal profession. The LPC is a well-established course, containing additional content beyond the SQE syllabus, much prized by law firms. These factors will continue to make the LPC a popular choice with both students and their employers whilst it remains an option to qualify using this route.
What do I need to consider when choosing between the SQE and LPC?
The main consideration for all students when making this choice will be whether they expect to be able to obtain a training contract or Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). Future trainees must complete one or the other, and this will dictate which route is appropriate.
For students who have, or expect to obtain a training contract, the LPC is the appropriate choice of course. You can view the full eligibility requirements for studying the LPC on our LPC course page.
Students who choose to sit the SQE will have to complete two years of QWE, so the key question for them is - will I be able to obtain QWE? At the moment, a lot of students studying for the SQE have already obtained some form of legal employment, which will count towards their QWE, so the SQE will be an appropriate choice for them.
Another factor to consider are the differences in the assessments: for example, the SQE has far more skills assessments than the LPC (16 tasks in total). Fees are also important; the difference in the course fees between the LPC and SQE preparation courses and that, for students taking the SQE, there are additional assessment fees payable to the SRA to sit the SQE.
Finally, the other key factor students are considering is how long it takes to study for the LPC and the SQE. The LPC typically lasts for one academic year when studied full time. It is possible to study for the SQE in a shorter time than this, but this is because there is no elective content in the SQE syllabus.
Are there any particular lifestyles that may suit one route over another?
Both of the ULaw LPC and SQE preparation courses are available in online and attendance mode and can be studied full or part-time. This means both routes have built-in flexibility for students who have work or caring responsibilities. The shorter timeframe for SQE and the fact that QWE can be started before, during and after sitting the SQE may make it a more flexible option for certain students, particularly those with work that will amount to QWE.
Which path is the quickest route to become a solicitor?
The SQE preparation courses are shorter than the LPC. However, all students will have to complete two years of training on the job, whether through a training contract or QWE to qualify.
Is the SQE harder than the LPC?
The best answer I can give is that the assessments are very different. With the LPC, students sit a mixture of closed and open book knowledge-based assessments using a multiple choice question style as well as long and short form problem solving questions. They also sit one skills assessment in each of legal research, drafting, writing, interviewing and advocacy.
The SQE is formed of the two parts, SQE1 and SQE2. During SQE1, students sit two five hour single best answer multiple-choice style question papers. The papers consist of 180 questions across a broad syllabus, including academic law and vocational subjects (360 questions in total). In SQE2, students will take 16 assessments made up as follows: two in each of the oral skills of advocacy and interviewing, and three assessments in each of the other four written skills of research, writing, drafting and case and matter analysis. These skills assessments are set in the contexts of property practice, wills, criminal practice, business law and practice and dispute resolution.
Do law firms prefer LPC or SQE?
Law firms are taking different approaches in deciding between the LPC and SQE and so there is, at present, no clear preference. Some law firms are choosing to transition to the SQE sooner and are moving their future trainees onto SQE preparation programmes in 2022, whilst many firms are not moving their students to the SQE until 2023 and beyond. We anticipate that whichever route students have studied for, organisations will continue to employ students to focus on is getting the best results possible, whichever route they choose, to improve their employability options.
What are timelines for each qualification?
Students seeking to qualify as a solicitor using the LPC route will frequently study the LPC in one academic year, and then progress onto a two year training contract before being able to be admitted as a solicitor.
With students seeking to qualify using the SQE route, the timeframe is seemingly more flexible as students may start QWE before having passed the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. There is no prescribed preparation course which students must complete. This means students could theoretically attempt SQE1 and SQE2 whilst carrying out their QWE. However, we anticipate that a large number of students will continue to study SQE courses. This will prepare them for what are considered to be tough assessments. In order to pass the SQE students will need to dedicate a significant period of time towards studying for them, whether through a part time course or studying full time. Also, the content covered in preparing for the SQE is narrower than the LPC, so many employers will expect their future trainees to complete additional training to plug the skills and knowledge gaps which will add to the timeline. Therefore, it is difficult to say with any precision what the timeline for SQE will be as it will vary from student to student, and what their employers will expect them to have completed and passed before joining them.
What are the funding options?
There may be financial support for both the LPC and SQE routes depending on how you choose to study. If you choose to study your LPC with the LLM in Professional Legal Practice or MSc in Law, Business and Management, you could be eligible for a Postgraduate Master's Loan. Similarly, if you consider LLM Legal Practice (SQE1&2) you could also be eligible for a postgraduate student loan. You can find out more about postgraduate funding options here. Alternatively, there could be scholarships or bursaries available to help with fees, and each course page has more information on the funding options available.
What advice would you give to anyone still struggling to decide between the SQE and LPC?
My advice would be not to rush any decision just yet, as there is still time before a final choice needs to be made. Those students would be well advised to keep in touch with ULaw through our various open evenings and other SQE related events. Here they can talk to our advisers and our Employability Team before making this important decision.
Discover more about the SQE on our dedicated SQE webpage.
Information correct as of July 2022.