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.
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 will 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). For students who have (or expect to obtain a training contract in 2022/23), the LPC is the appropriate choice of course.
Students who choose to sit the SQE will have to complete two years of QWE to qualify, 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?
It is difficult to say at this stage as we do not set the SQE assessments and no real assessments have yet been sat by any students. 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 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.
With the SQE, 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: 2 in each the oral skills of advocacy and interviewing and 3 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.
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 over the next few weeks and months 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.