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Understanding the SQE

It was the biggest shake-up in legal education in decades. The Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE) changed the way all solicitors qualify from September 2021. The University of Law has tailored its courses to guide students along a smooth path to SQE success and into a great career in the legal profession.

By Cara Fielder. Published 18 February 2018. Last updated 13 April 2023.

Our complete guide

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) decided to reform solicitor qualification in England and Wales by introducing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The SQE is broken down into two assessments (referred to as SQE1 and SQE2) and aims to ensure qualifying solicitors meet a consistent standard of practice.

Kaplan were appointed as the examination adjudicator and assessor.

We watched the SRA’s plans as they 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 did the SQE start?
  • How Will the SQE change the process to become a solicitor?
  • How does the SQE differ from the QLD/PGDL 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 did the SQE start?

The SQE started in September 2021. However, it was not  a ‘big bang’ change. The new and previous systems will run alongside each other for some years. Those who started their legal education before the SQE was introduced will be allowed to follow their choice of the new or previous process, as long as those using the previous process complete it by 2032.

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 previous process that most followed to become a qualified solicitor. We'll then go through the new process 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 previous 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 completing 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 could 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 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 1
    All applicants will have to sit and pass the SQE 1, whatever degree or other qualifications they have already. The SQE1 will mainly assess your legal knowledge through multiple-choice examinations.
  3. SQE2
    You must complete SQE1 before progressing to SQE2. Again, all applicants will have to sit these assessments, regardless of existing qualifications. The SQE 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 in most cases candidates will have successfully completed at least their SQE1 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 previous process these checks are done before starting the training contract phase.)

How does the SQE differ from the QLD/PGDL 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 a set of centralised assessments. These are 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.

What if a have a law degree?

Having a law degree will give you a good base of knowledge to build upon ahed of taking the SQE assessments. That said, you may need to undertake further learning before you're ready to take the SQE exams. ULaw have a full range of courses to prepare you not just for the SQE, but to give you the wider skills you'll need to stand out and succeed in the workplace.

What if I'm part way through my training when the SQE starts?

Don't worry if you have already started a qualifying law degree, GDL or training contract. There are transition arrangements in place until 31 December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor under the previous LPC route. Our own LPC will run until at least 2026.

What will the SQE look like and cover?

The SQE1 will cover 'functioning legal knowledge' and test your application of law based on realistic scenarios via multiple choice questions. The assessments will cover subjects you will have studied on a law degree or a conversion course, as well as the vocational practice areas in stage 1 of the previous LPC route. There will be two lengthy multiple-choice papers of 180 questions each, covering all aspects of the SQE1 syllabus.

The SQE2 will test the practical legal skills required for practice including the following: interviewing, advocacy, legal writing, legal drafting, legal research and case matter analysis.

Is there anything I need to do now?

Preparing for the SQE can take approximately nine to twelve months. However, you don't have to do this alone. We offer a range of SQE Preparation Courses to help ensure you're as ready as you can be ahead of sitting your SQE examinations. We even offer an LLM option for SQE study that incorporates both SQE1 and SQE2 Preparation and adds to it with a choice of Key Practice Area modules that go beyond the SQE syllabus.

You can find out more about SQE and our preparation SQE courses here.