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Should I defer my legal studies for the SQE?

By Peter Crisp, Pro-Vice Chancellor at The University of Law

The replacement of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) with the Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE) is set to be one of the biggest shakeups in legal education in decades.

However, as the SQE won’t come into existence until September 2021, prospective law students may wonder whether they should postpone their studies and take their chances with the SQE rather than do the tried and tested LPC.

Here at The University of Law (ULaw), we are designing programmes to prepare students for SQE success once the new exams are introduced. In the meantime, our team of expert staff has already addressed the common question of whether students should defer their law studies until 2021.

There is certainly some appeal for students to defer, and one of the main reasons might be cost. The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) has stated that reduced cost will hopefully be one of the advantages of the new assessment, and the SRA claims that the SQE will be cheaper for students than the current LPC.

However, it is important to emphasise that this is far from a certainty as the SRA has not yet announced the fees other than to say they could be up to £4500 per student just to sit the assessments. As nearly all students will wish to undertake a programme of study to prepare for the two SQE assessment, the additional cost of this needs to be factored in. Quite simply, until there is more clarity regarding the details of the assessment fees it is difficult to say how significant the difference in cost might be.

The SQE could also change how students go about securing the necessary qualifying work experience (QWE), as it will be possible for students to combine up to four periods of QWE during their studies. This would mean that students could in theory complete all their required work experience whilst they’re studying, instead of waiting until their qualification is complete, as is the case with the LPC. How practical or realistic this would be remains to be seen. The University of Law has spoken with numerous law firms about the timing of the QWE and they all expect students to undertake their QWE after they have sat and passed the SQE.

One of the most important reasons for a student to begin their law studies immediately, is the uncertainty that remains around the SQE.

As things currently stand, there is still a huge amount of uncertainty regarding key details of the SQE, including cost, the nature of the assessments in SQE 2 and even the exact start date itself.

Although the LPC will be replaced in the near future, for the time being it offers stability and clarity that the SQE simply cannot match. Furthermore, the SRA has confirmed that there will be a significant period (currently anticipated to be up to 11 years) of transition between the LPC and the SQE, so that those who start the LPC route will not be required to undertake the SQE and may qualify under the current regime

With this uncertainty and with the assurances from the SRA that students who study the LPC will not be required to undertake reassessment upon the introduction of the SQE, students should not be put off from beginning their legal studies prior to the assessment overhaul.

The fact that we still do not know how the final version of the SQE will compare to the LPC in terms of level of difficultly and pass rates, combined with the fact that the current qualifications will remain valid for another decade means that, as things stand students would not gain anything by waiting for the SQE to come into force. So our advice would be to carry on with your studies as planned.

To keep up-to-date with the latest SQE information visit our SQE webpage.