The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is the main path into law for aspiring solicitors. It was introduced in 2021 as a replacement for the Legal Practice Course (LPC). It is intended for both law graduates and non-law graduates seeking to be admitted as a solicitor or a lawyer in another jurisdiction looking to qualify as a UK solicitor, the SQE is the main way to do so. It is administered by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The SQE is comprised of two major assessments – SQE1 and SQE2 – and a mandatory two-year period of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) that tests your legal skills and legal knowledge. The only requirement in terms of timing is that you will need to take SQE1 before SQE2, as QWE can be undertaken at any point.
Once you have passed all of the SQE assessments and completed your period of QWE, you will then be a newly qualified solicitor, or NQ.
SQE1 is comprised of two assessments – FLK1 and FLK2 – that assess Functioning Legal Knowledge.
Each assessment has 180 questions and takes place on a separate day, with each day further split into two sessions. Each session is about two hours and a half hours, during which you’ll be answering 90 questions. There is an hour break in between the two sessions.
SQE2 includes both an oral skills assessments and written assessments, and you’ll be expected to book both portions of the exam at the same time. This assesses application of Functioning Legal Knowledge.
There are three locations where the oral assessments take place; Cardiff, London and Manchester. They take place over the course of two days and are each half-days.
This tests your client interviewing skills and practical skills, such as drafting a note.
The written assessments take place over three days, with four assessments on each day. Each day is split into two sessions.
QWE is an additional requirement before those pursuing the SQE can be admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales. You need to complete two years of work experience at up to four organisations. Work experience should help develop aspiring solicitors’ SRA competencies and needs to be overseen by a solicitor qualified in England and Wales.
There are some criteria set out by the SRA regarding who can take SQE1 and who can take SQE2, and there are different requirements for both stages, depending on where you are in your legal career.
Most of those in the UK who are pursuing a career as a solicitor will be looking at the SQE after completing university, but you may have completed a degree-equivalent qualification, or even already be qualified in another country. Some may be able to apply to the SRA for an exemption.
To take the SQE1, you should have a degree (this can be in any subject) or degree-equivalent qualification. This is known as a level 6 qualification and can include an undergraduate degree, level 6 NVQ or degree apprenticeship, for example. If you have work experience that you would like considered as a equivalent, this is reviewed by the SRA on an individual basis upon application.
Certain lawyers qualified in other jurisdictions can apply for an exemption from taking SQE1 based an SRA review of qualifications in the relevant country. Effectively, anyone with qualifications or experience that meets the SRA standards for the SQE1 can apply or an exemption.
To take the SQE2, you should have taken and passed the SQE1 assessments.
As with SQE1, there are lawyers from certain jurisdictions who can apply for an exemption based on the SRA’s review of the country’s qualifications. Unlike SQE1, lawyers also need to show two years of legal work experience in addition to equivalent qualifications or experience.
The SQE was introduced as a more accessible path into law than the previous LPC path. As a result, there are different options you can choose from when it comes to preparing for the assessments.
You can choose to prepare by yourself by following the guidance and information available on the SRA website. It’s worth noting that, if you choose this option, you will have to seek out your own resources and won’t have any teaching of relevant materials. If you would like to prepare for the SQE individually, you may, for example, want to seek out others studying for the qualification and form a study group. This option gives you the flexibility of studying for as much or little time as you need, including doing QWE when it best suits you.
The more popular choice is similar to the LPC; taking an SQE prep course. These courses are usually under a year and offer supported teaching on the different areas involved in the assessments. There are other advantages, such as the option to select a course that includes an LLM. Another benefit is that, for example, the University of Law guarantees four weeks of QWE to those taking its SQE Masters courses.
You may also want to spread out your QWE – there are benefits to developing some on-the-job experience before taking the assessments.
Training contracts are still available at leading law firms, so if you opt to apply for the two-year training contract, it is likely you will need to take the SQE. As part of transitional arrangements, anyone who had not accepted a place on a qualifying law course by September 21st 2021 will not be eligible to take the legal practice course (LPC). If you have a non-law degree, you may still be required to undertake a conversion course (PGDL).
The SQE1 and SQE2 cost different amounts and, although there are multiple assessments in each exam, you will need to pay for each exam in one go.
The SQE1 costs £1,622, and payment for both FLK1 and FLK2 will be taken at the same time, but you will need to book your dates separately.
The SQE2 costs £2,493 and you can book both the oral assessment and written exam at the same time.
You can pay online or, if you’re taking a SQE preparation course, your training provider may have given you a voucher you can use.
You could also be eligible for one of the SQE funding options available.
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