The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s landmark change to the traditional route of qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales will be compulsory from 2021. Read on to find out exactly how the SQE will affect non-law students converting to law.
Created with the intention to ensure all future solicitors qualify to the same high standard, the SQE removes any variation in knowledge or skills that currently arise from different teaching methods and syllabuses in legal courses across different higher education institutions. The SQE will offer a centralised method of assessing solicitors and their competence.
The SQE will apply to all aspiring solicitors, regardless of whether they have completed a qualifying law degree (such as the LLB or equivalent) or a non-law degree. This means that the road to becoming a solicitor will be the same for law and non-law students. All that is required is a degree (in any subject).
Prior to the introduction of the SQE, any non-law graduates interested in converting to law would need to complete a one or two-year legal conversion course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) before joining law graduates in completing the Legal Practice Course (LPC). They would then finish their training with a two-year training contract. While applying for a training contract, future solicitors would undergo quality and suitability checks. Once completing their two-year training contract, trainees would then need to apply to the SRA to be admitted as a solicitor.
Under the new scheme, once students complete their non-law degree, they will need to complete a two-step assessment. Stage one (known as SQE 1) will assess legal knowledge while SQE 2 will examine practical legal skills. These will be on a pass/fail basis.
Students will then need to complete at least two years of relevant work experience with a maximum of four employers; this can include paralegal work experience, a traditional work placement or working in a law clinic. This can be taken before, during or after completing the SQE assessments.
Once candidates have passed the two stages and completed two years of experience, the SRA will conduct character and suitability assessments.
Firstly, the SQE will offer a cheaper path into law for non-law students. The average cost of the GDL is approximately £8,400 with a LPC costing up to £16,750 in addition. In comparison, the SQE is estimated to cost between £3,000 and £4,500 (with additional costs for preparation courses). Undoubtedly, the SQE will be cheaper than the GDL and LPC combined. The SQE will allow an easier, and cheaper, transition into law, making a legal career more accessible and ensuring that financial costs do not hinder aspiring solicitors.
Under the SQE, there is greater flexibility of legal work experience; from work at law clinics to experience as a paralegal. Once again, the SQE will allow more people to qualify as solicitors, making sure that various circumstances do not hinder students from entering the profession.
It also ensures that regardless of whether solicitors have completed a law degree or not, standards will be consistent. Having a law degree will only be helpful as far as helping students prepare for some aspects of the SQE. In theory, non-law graduates will not be at a disadvantage. However, this dramatic shake-up to the current route might not be as well received by law firms who prefer the long-standing traditional path to becoming a solicitor.
It is important to bear in mind that the SQE is still in its planning stages and is subject to changes.
Words: Siobhan Ali
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