The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE)
On 25 April 2017, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) officially announced that the way in which future solicitors will train and qualify will change dramatically when the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) – is introduced in September 2020.
The introduction of this “super exam” will see significant changes to the courses and training currently on offer, including Law Degree Courses, the Legal Practice Course (LPC), the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and other law conversion courses, which are set to be phased out under the new system. Keep reading to find out more!
SQE – The Background
The SRA have long been concerned about the way in which individuals are currently prepared for solicitor practice. They argue that current methods employed by educational institutions to educate and examine (on courses such as the qualifying LLB Law Degree, LPC and the GDL) are inconsistent and difficult to monitor.
As a result, the SRA suggested that one standardised exam (the SQE) be implemented across the board in an attempt to bring uniformity to the way in which individuals are examined going forward.
The SRA issued two consultations on this issue, the last one being ‘A New Route to Qualification: The Solicitors Qualification Examination’, which was published in October 2016.
This consultation closed on 9th January 2017, the results are in and the SRA has announced that the proposed SQE will in fact be implemented.
What Will the SQE Involve?
The precise details of the SQE are yet to be finalised, but at this stage, it is envisaged that the SQE will be divided into two parts:
- The first part will test a candidate’s ability to use and apply legal knowledge; and
- The second part will test legal skills.
SQE Part One
It is envisaged that the first part will broadly assess functioning legal knowledge through a series of six computer-based examinations. Part one is likely to be made up of a number of different question formats, including:
- Single best answer questions
- Extended matching questions
- Multiple choice questions
The exam is also likely to assess basic legal research and written communication skills. The SRA have acknowledged that computer-based testing would not be appropriate in this case. It is understood that candidates will have three attempts to pass the exams and can only move on to part two once they have done so.
Proposed exam topics for part one of the SQE include:
- Professional Conduct, Public and Administrative Law and the Legal Systems of England and Wales
- Dispute Resolution on Contract or Tort
- Property Law and Practice
- Commercial and Corporate Law and Practice
- Wills and the Administration of Estates and Trusts
- Criminal Law and Practice
SQE Part Two
The second part will assess core legal skills (for example, client interviewing, advocacy, case and matter analysis, legal research, written advice and drafting) through a series of five assessments repeated in two separate legal contexts. Such assessments will not occur until the candidate has completed a period of work based learning.
SQE Work Based Learning
In addition to sitting the SQE, candidates will be required to complete a period of ‘work based learning’ (not dissimilar to the current training contract system), which will take place in a law firm or SRA approved organisation. The length of this training set to be 24 months. At the end of this period of work based learning, candidates will then sit part two of the SQE.
SQE – A Summary
In their news release dated 25 April 2017, the SRA suggested that the new qualification will have four elements. In order to qualify as a solicitor, candidates will need to:
- have passed SQE stages 1 and 2 to demonstrate they have the right knowledge and skills
- have been awarded a degree or an equivalent qualification, or have gained equivalent experience
- have completed at least two years of qualifying legal work experience
- be of satisfactory character and suitability.
SQE – The Transitional Phase
In the same news release the SRA stated that after full implementation of the SQE, law students and trainees who are in the process of completing a law degree, conversion course, LPC or training contract will be able to choose between the old and new routes. All qualifying solicitors will be expected to go through the new system by around September 2024. The SRA intends to consult fully on these transitional arrangements later this year and as and when further news emerges, we will update this page.