July 5, 2023
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) has changed the route to solicitor practice since it launched in 2021, replacing the traditional Legal Practice Course (LPC) pathway. Those who have had their sights set on a career in law from an earlier age are dealing with the transition from one path to another, or going straight into the SQE, LLB in hand. The top question is – is a law conversion course necessary for students who want to move towards a future as a solicitor, using the new SQE route. The key word to interrogate here is ‘necessary’ – versus ‘mandatory’.

SRA Admission Requirements

The SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) requires those who take the SQE to hold a degree in any subject before applying for admission as a solicitor*. So in theory, that could be history, politics, English, or anything else that isn’t the classic LLB. With this in mind, we could be confident that graduates would not be refused admission on the basis that they do not have an LLB (or equivalent qualifying legal degree (QLD)) or a law conversion course in their academic credentials.

However, thorough understanding of academic law is crucial for success in the SQE assessments

The SQE is a robust, intensive assessment of students’ legal knowledge, including the academic law that would normally be studied in an LLB or a law conversion course, and the SRA recognises that for students to be successful in SQE1 and SQE2, they should prioritise achieving a thorough understanding of this academic law.

*or equivalent level 6 qualification, or students without this can apply for an equivalence using other qualifications or experience. See the SRA website for specific requirements.

Law Conversion Courses

Postgraduate law conversion courses offer students the opportunity to build their knowledge of these fundamental legal rules, or ‘black letter laws’, so they are prepared for the content and assessments that will face them during solicitor training courses, which naturally follow on.

The subjects covered within black letter laws include crime, equity, tort, contract, constitutional and administrative law, land and legal system.

Students who go straight into an SQE preparation course without this foundational understanding may struggle to keep pace with their classmates and it may take longer for them to pass the SQE1 assessments (remember – you cannot progress to SQE2 until you have passed SQE1).

Alongside the phasing out of the LPC, the traditional law conversion course, the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) has also been replaced with the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PgDL). This course is offered widely and is accompanied  by other conversion courses, including Master’s awards, such as The University of Law’s MA Law (Conversion).

Black Letter Laws Within SQE Preparation Courses

As mentioned above, many SQE preparation courses will ask students to draw on this knowledge whilst studying for the SQE assessments. This means that although the content will be covered, it won’t necessarily be taught, and may instead focus more on revision of the concepts and fundamentals, when applied to specific contexts.

SQE preparation courses, including those which also result in a Master’s award, are intensive and demand a lot of from students in terms of time, preparation and commitment. So the majority of SQE course providers offer conversion or foundation courses, to bridge the knowledge gap and get students up to speed for the next stage.


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What Do Law Firms Think?

Of course, the end goal for anyone embarking on any solicitor training course, is to qualify, be admitted by the SRA and land their first role – at a firm, in-house or in the third sector.

Legal Cheek recently undertook a survey with their top law firms, to gauge how valuable they feel it is that non-law graduates complete a conversion course prior to studying for the SQE, given that it’s not a formal requirement for admission by the SRA.

The results are compelling: 

Nearly all respondents (98%) said they will require non-law students to undertake a law conversion course prior to commencing their SQE prep.

This indicates the level of knowledge and academic evidence needed to be competitive in the trainee solicitor market – suggesting that it’s worth investing the time and money upfront to ensure you’re not at a disadvantage later down the line when it comes to nailing your dream role.

Key Takeaways

A conversion course may not seem essential at first – students who want to qualify generally wish to do so as quickly and cheaply as possible which is understandable. But for budding solicitors who are switching to legal study after the undergraduate stage, a conversion course is an extremely valuable tool in their armoury, both within SQE preparation, and beyond.

Students who are undertaking a law conversion course followed by an SQE preparation course should consider funding options – including scholarships (that vary by provider, such as The University of Law’s Career Changer scholarship), and Postgraduate Student Loans (for UK nationals). Students could use this for their conversion course if it is a Master’s, or save it for a Master’s solicitor training course.


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