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The SQE – Will it be more difficult to qualify?

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

With the Solicitors Qualifying Exam rolling out in 2021, our experts discuss the different paths the SQE could take you on.

Before getting into the detail, it’s worth noting that students who have already started a law degree or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), or intend to do so before September 2021, will have the option to remain on the existing route to qualification. Those who choose to stay on the current route will be unaffected by the changes, unless they choose to voluntarily switch routes (more on that later).

What is the current route to qualify as a solicitor?

Under the existing format, studying to become a solicitor looks like this:

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

Students study a qualifying law degree (QLD), such as an LLB, or complete a law conversion course, such as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Once either of those methods of study are complete, students progress onto the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

The LPC is where students learn to apply the law and as such is often known as the vocational stage of solicitor training. Students can choose to study the minimum requirements of the LPC, or choose to include extra content to achieve a master’s qualification.

Following completion of the LPC, students are required to work for a period of two years as a trainee solicitor, which is commonly known as a training contract.

Once the training contract has been completed, students then apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority to be admitted as a solicitor.

How this will change under the SQE?

One of the most predominant changes coming in under SQE, is that students will no longer be required by the SRA to study a QLD. Applicants must have an undergraduate degree, or equivalent experience, and whilst a law degree will give applicants a strong foundation in legal knowledge, thus helping with SQE study, it will no longer be a formal requirement.

This is what your method of study will look like under the SQE:

Students achieve an undergraduate degree or equivalent, such as a degree level apprenticeship. Whilst a degree in law will of course be very beneficial for SQE study, it will no longer be compulsory.

Applicants will need to sit and pass SQE Stage One (SQE1), regardless of the degree or qualifications already held. This stage will mainly assess legal knowledge through a series of multiple-choice questions (MCQs). Applicants will need to complete Stage One before being allowed to progress to Stage Two (SQE2).

Following the completion of SQE1, applicants will move on to the second stage of the SQE. Whilst the details are still being confirmed, this stage will assess applicants’ legal skills through practical examinations and assessments, such as interviewing, advocacy, and legal research.

Similar to training contracts under the existing regime, students will be required to complete a minimum of two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE) under the SQE. This can be gained with up to four different legal employers and could include appropriate pro bono experience. Importantly, the experience could be gained during, before, or after the SQE assessments themselves, however it is anticipated that students will have completed SQE1 before the majority of their QWE.

Once the assessments have been completed and QWE carried out, students will apply to the SRA for qualification. At this stage the SRA will complete quality and suitability checks to determine whether students are eligible to become solicitors, as opposed to the current process where these checks are carried out at training contract stage.

Already studying, or part way through your training?

The SRA has proposed a transition period of eleven years from when the SQE starts, meaning that if the changes roll out as planned in 2021, students who have already started on the current route will in theory have until 2032 to continue to qualification.

Once the SQE does launch, anyone who wants to switch to the new route but began studying before the changes will be free to do so, meaning they can wait to see what the changes look like before making a decision.

So, what will I study on the SQE?

Based on what we know so far from what has been released by the SRA, SQE1 will be a series of multiple-choice assessments. These assessments will be based on a combination of academic law, which is currently covered as part of the law degree/Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), and vocational subjects that are studied as part of the LPC. The papers will cover:

  • Public and Administrative Law and Legal Systems of England and Wales
  • Dispute Resolution in Contract and Tort
  • Property Law and Practice
  • Business Law and Practice
  • Criminal Law and Practice
  • Wills and Administration of Estates and Trusts

There will also be one online assessment in Legal Research and Writing as part of SQE1. Under the most recent proposal from the SRA , there will be three MCQ assessments, combining the following:

  • Business Law and Practice, Dispute Resolution, Contract and Tort
  • Property Practice, Wills and the Administration of Estates and Trusts, Solicitors Accounts and Land Law
  • Public and Administrative Law and Legal Systems of England and Wales, Criminal Law and Practice

SQE2 will assess candidates on the following skills:

  • Client Interviewing
  • Advocacy/Persuasive Oral Communication
  • Case and Matter Analysis
  • Legal Research and Written Advice
  • Legal Drafting

The assessments under SQE2 will range in methodology, for example oral exams in front of the examiner, with actors playing the client. The current proposal is that each skill must be sat twice in two different practice areas. The possible practice areas are:

  • Criminal Practice
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Property
  • Wills & Admin of Estates and Property
  • Commercial and Corporate Practice

SQE2 is being piloted later in 2019 and it is possible that the number of assessments may change as a result of the pilot.

I’ve already completed my LPC and want to take a break, what does this mean for me?

Put simply, the LPC qualification doesn’t have a life span and won’t ‘go out of date’. However, once the SQE rolls out the period of recognised training (QWE or a training contract) will need to have been completed by 2032. This means that in theory, someone who passed the LPC in July 2018 could in theory delay starting a training contract until 2030.

It is also worth noting here that the SQE is time-limited, meaning a pass only remains valid for six years, so a student would need to be admitted during that time period.

The SQE presents a big change to the industry, but our experts are on hand to share all the information we have, when we have it. If you want to find out more about the SQE story so far, take a look at our blog that aims to answer the initial questions you may have.

Understanding The SQE ➔