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Understanding the SQE

It’s the biggest shake-up in legal education in decades. The Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE) is set to change the way all solicitors qualify from 2021. The University of Law will be tailoring its courses to guide students along a smooth path to SQE success and into a great career in the legal profession.

Here on our SQE hub we will be keeping you up-to-date with all the information about the SQE as it becomes available. We will be publishing blogs and articles with thoughts from our academics on the new qualification and the best way for students to approach it.

Our complete guide

Last year the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced their decision to reform the solicitor qualification in England and Wales by introducing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

The SRA have been consulting on reforms since 2015. Kaplan have now been appointed as the examination adjudicator and assessor.

We have been looking closely at the SRA’s plans as they have developed over the last few years. Peter Crisp, our Pro-Vice Chancellor, External, is one of the leading thought leaders on what the SQE will mean for legal students and how to provide the best training and preparation for examination.

  • When will the SQE start?
  • How Will the SQE change the process to become a solicitor?
  • How does the SQE differ from the QLD/GDL and LPC?
  • What if I have a law degree?
  • What if I'm part way through my training when the SQE starts?
  • What will the SQE look like and cover?
  • Is there anything I need to do now?

When will the SQE start?

The SRA have said that the SQE regime will not be introduced until September 2021 at the earliest. As this language suggests, it could be delayed. The change is significant, so it’s important that the SRA get the details right.

Even if it does come in for September 2021, it will not be a ‘big bang’ change – the new and current systems will run alongside each other for some years. The SRA have just consulted on the transitional provisions (the rules that will apply as they move from one regime to another), and we’re waiting to see the outcome. However, they’re proposing that anyone who starts their legal education before the SQE is introduced will be allowed to follow their choice of the new or current process, as long as those using the current process complete it by 2032 (to be confirmed).

How will the SQE change the process to become a solicitor?

To give you a clear understanding of how the SQE is going to change things, we’ll start with a quick overview of the current process that most students follow to become a qualified solicitor and then go through the new process that will be introduced with the SQE. (Different rules can apply – for instance, if you are on a solicitor apprenticeship, or if you are already a qualified lawyer in a different jurisdiction.)

The current process:

  1. Qualifying law degree or a law conversion course
    This is known as the academic stage of training, where you learn key areas of law. You complete it either by having a qualifying law degree (QLD), like our LLB, or you will need to complete a law conversion course, such as our GDL, before progressing on to the LPC.
  2. Legal Practice Course (LPC)
    The LPC is known as the vocational stage of training, where you learn how to apply the law. You can either study just the minimum requirements of the LPC, or choose to include some extra content to earn a master’s qualification, such as our LPC LLM, or LPC MSc.
  3. Training contract (or ‘period of recognised training’)
    After completing your LPC you need to work for 2 years as a trainee solicitor, commonly called a training contract.
  4. Apply to the SRA to be admitted as a solicitor
  5. Qualify as a solicitor

The new process:

  1. Undergraduate degree or equivalent
    To become a solicitor, all applicants must either have an undergraduate degree, or equivalent experience, to study at degree level (for example, by completing a degree level apprenticeship). Importantly, a qualifying law degree will no longer have any special meaning for the process, but it should help candidates prepare for some of the SQE assessments.
  2. SQE stage 1
    All applicants will have to sit and pass SQE Stage 1, whatever degree or other qualifications they have already. SQE Stage 1 will mainly assess your legal knowledge through multiple-choice examinations. You must complete SQE stage 1 before progressing to SQE stage 2.
  3. SQE stage 2
    Again, all applicants will have to sit these assessments, regardless of existing qualifications. SQE Stage 2 will assess your legal skills through practical examinations and assessments.
  4. Qualifying work experience
    You’ll need to complete a minimum of two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE), which can be with up to four different legal employers (and could include appropriate pro bono experience). You can do this during, before or after completing your SQE assessments, although we expect that in most cases candidates will have successfully completed at least SQE stage 1 before starting their main period of QWE.
  5. Apply to the SRA for qualification
    The SRA will complete quality and suitability checks only at this stage of the process to determine whether you are eligible to become a solicitor. (Under the current process these checks are done before starting the training contract phase.)

How does the SQE differ from the QLD/GDL and LPC?

The QLD, GDL, and LPC, are all courses of study. Each has to include certain prescribed subjects, but the details of the courses and the assessments are set by the course provider.

The SQE is fundamentally different, as it is just a set of exams. These exams will be set by Kaplan and all students will sit the same SQE exams no matter where or how they did their studies. Any degree or other qualifications/exam results will be irrelevant under the new regime, except to show you have a degree or equivalent in some subject – the SRA will only use your SQE result to check you have the knowledge and skills to become a solicitor.

Of course, you’ll still need to study law and legal practice to get ready for the SQE. ULaw will have a full range of courses to prepare you not just for the SQE, but to give you the wider skills you need to stand out and succeed in the workplace.