The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has been discussing reforms for many years following the publication of the report of the Legal Education and Training Review in 2013. The recently announced that the result of this process, the SQE, would be introduced on 1st September 2021, subject to Legal Services Board approval later this year.
The idea is that once the SQE is launched, the current solicitors’ qualification course (the Legal Practice Course [LPC]) will be phased out. Anyone who has started on their journey to becoming a solicitor before it’s introduced will be allowed to choose between the LPC or SQE pathway, as long as those using the current process complete it by 2032.
How Will the SQE Change the Process of Becoming a solicitor?
Under the current system, the most common route to becoming a solicitor is as follows:
Qualifying law degree (LLB) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)
Training Contract (or ‘period of recognised training’)
Apply to SRA to be admitted as a solicitor
Qualify as a solicitor
The proposed SQE pathway will entail a new format altogether:
Undergraduate degree or equivalent (not necessarily in Law)
SQE Stage 1
SQE Stage 2
Qualifying work experience (QWE) (a minimum of two years’ work)
Apply to the SRA to be admitted as a solicitor
Under the new pathway, there will not be any requirement for an aspiring lawyer to hold a qualifying law degree, though many candidates are likely to have either a law degree or another degree plus a conversion course. Moreover, instead of the LPC, candidates will be expected to pass SQE 1 (knowledge-based examination) and SQE 2 (skills-based examination, although underpinning knowledge also will be assessed).
Furthermore, whereas a training contract typically entails two years of training with the same employer (albeit in different seats), the new QWE proposal will allow candidates to undertake work with up to four different legal employers (and this also may include pro bono work).
How Does the SQE Differ From the QLD/GDL and LPC?
The SQE – simply put – is just another set of exams. Unlike the LPC, it is not a programme of training and it will be up to each student to decide which programmes on the market will best prepare them for the assessments.
The knowledge tested by the SQE will be different from the knowledge tested in the LPC. Students will have to answer questions based on subjects studied in their law degree or conversion course as well as some of the subjects they study today on the LPC. However, the SQE will not test knowledge of elective modules.
There will be two exams set by the SRA that candidates will be required to pass (SQE 1 and SQE 2). The exams will be set by Kaplan and all students will sit the same exam, regardless of where they are studying.
LPC v SQE – What Will the SQE Look Like and Cover?
The SQE 1 assessment will comprise two three-hour exams, each containing 180 multiple choice questions on subjects including criminal law, property law, solicitors’ accounts etc. Throughout these exams, you will also be tested on professional conduct issues.
The SQE 2 will assess competency in legal skills such as client interviewing, advocacy and legal research.
One further difference between the LPC and the SQE is the standard at which you will be assessed at: whereas on the LPC, candidates are tested to the standard expected of a trainee, the requisite standard of a SQE candidate is of a newly qualified lawyer. Therefore, the course seems to be streamlined, and assessed to a higher standard with the intention of better preparing candidates for life as a solicitor.
Is There Anything I Need to Do Now?
In short, no! The LSB is still to give final sign-off of the SRA’s plans and some further details about the assessments, QWE and learning support are still to be published. As things stand, if you are considering a career as a solicitor, then you must have a qualifying law degree and complete the LPC prior to completing a training contract, if you choose to qualify following the current route. But from September 2021, the SQE will come into play and students are set to have more choice about how they qualify.