The introduction of the solicitors qualifying exam (SQE) means a new pathway for career changers and students without a legal background. We talk to ULaw Director for SQE Conversion Peter Goodchild to discuss the new path to becoming a solicitor.
By Cara Fielder. Published 29 July 2021. Last updated 13 October 2022.
The SQE is the new system of qualification for solicitors in England & Wales, conceived by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to improve access to the profession. An aspiring solicitor needs a degree and then to pass SQE1&2. Along the way, they need to do two years’ Qualifying Work Experience. The SQE1 assessment comprises just over 10 hours of closed-book Single Best Answer Questions (SBAQs). These are multiple-choice questions requiring an informed choice between several viable options.However, to pass SQE1&2, most individuals will want to undergo a course of professional training such as the SQE1 Prep Course and the SQE2 Prep Course offered by ULaw.
How to become a Solicitor in the UK step by step?
A non-law graduate will need to acquire the foundational legal knowledge necessary to start these courses. Most will undertake a conversion course such as ULaw’s PgDL, MA Law (Conversion) or MA Law (SQE1).
The SQE is not a course of study but an examination. As before, preparation courses are delivered in several different formats to cater for individual circumstances. The University’s new conversion courses and SQE preparation courses for non-law graduate students are all delivered full-time and part-time, by attendance or online.
The previous pathway requires aspiring solicitors to pass the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and complete a two-year Training Contract in practice. To start the LPC, a student must first have a Qualifying Law Degree or pass a conversion course such as the GDL. From finishing a non-law degree to starting a training contract would take two years of full-time study. It was felt that this pathway was too inflexible and possibly failed to promote access to the profession.
How long does it take to become a solicitor in the UK?
The time it takes to qualify depends on the route taken. The SQE assessments are at fixed points in the year, and if a student undertakes preparation courses for each, this part of training will take about one academic year - the same as the LPC. Likewise, a non-law graduate will spend an academic year doing a conversion course first. People can take less time if they want by skipping a course (which is not advised) or doing a short-form course such as the SQE Law Essentials conversion course.
The SQE brings flexibility and choice. It’s up to students to decide how to get to those SQE assessments, although most will adopt the traditional conversion course – plus – vocational course structure. Qualifying Work Experience allows individuals to acquire relevant experience in a wider context than the old training contracts - this should improve flexibility and access. The SBAQs aim to place less emphasis on traditional exam skills like composition and essay writing and more emphasis on the application of law and judgement. The University’s PgDL aims to address these skills while preserving emphasis on critical thinking and communication skills, which students and employers value.
Can you do the SQE without a law degree?
You may be wondering, “can I be a solicitor without a law degree?”. The answer is that you absolutely can. One of the main changes under the SQE system is that to qualify, solicitors do not need a law degree or equivalent. However, to pass the SQE assessments, a candidate will need a thorough knowledge of the law in England and Wales – which is where ULaw’s conversion courses come in. These will help prepare you for the challenges of both SQE1 and SQE2.
The SQE is designed for aspiring solicitors. Most students who pass SQE1&2 will go on to do two years Qualifying Work Experience before qualifying as a solicitor. Although this experience can be gained out of sequence
Legal employers value career changers and people who haven’t yet done law degrees as much as their lawyer colleagues. People from non-law backgrounds bring experience and expertise, plus a fresh enthusiasm for the law. When you start your conversion course, be patient- as it does take a while to adapt to thinking like a lawyer- but it’s worth it in the end.
What alternative routes are there for pursuing law?
If you have already started your law degree qualification, GDL or training contract, there are transition arrangements in place until December 2032. These will allow you to qualify as a solicitor under the current routes in place.
Eventually you will be able to start a Solicitor apprenticeship. For example, a Level 7 Solicitors Apprenticeship for post A-level students or Solicitor Graduate Apprenticeship (post-first degree).
Discover more about the SQE on our dedicated SQE webpage.