The SQE Explained
As you will know by now, the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) have announced changes to the qualification process for solicitors in England and Wales. The new system will involve changes to both legal education and training.
In terms of legal education, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will replace the GDL and LPC. The examinations will be set by one provider (unlike the GDL and LPC) and so will ensure that all candidates are tested consistently and to the same level, regardless of their pathway into law.
How do the old and new systems differ?
Current qualification system
1. Qualifying law degree or Graduate Diploma in Law
2. Legal Practice Course
3. 2-year Training Contract (or 'period of recognised training’)
4. Apply to the SRA to be admitted as a solicitor
SQE qualification system
1. Undergraduate degree (or equivalent experience e.g. degree-level apprenticeship)
2. SQE stage 1 – assessment of legal knowledge mainly though multiple-choice questions
3. SQE stage 2 – assessment of legal skills through practical examinations and assessments
4. Qualifying work experience – this can be with up to four different legal employers (including pro bono work). It can be done before, alongside or after the SQE stages 1 and 2 (though it is generally expected that students will complete SQE stage 1 first)
5. Apply to the SRA for qualification (the eligibility checks at this stage are done before starting the Training Contract under the current system)
Note that under the new system, having an undergraduate law degree will no longer have any particular advantages: all students must complete both stages of the SQE regardless of whether they have previously studied law.
What will the SQE exams cover?
SQE Stage 1 will be made up of a 3-hour exam of 160 multiple choice questions and a written exam which focuses on legal research and writing skills. It will cover topics similar to the GDL (though EU law is yet to be confirmed!). All of the exams must be taken within the same assessment window and they will be taken on a computer.
SQE Stage 2 will assess: client interviewing, advocacy, case and matter analysis, legal research, written advice and legal drafting. Some of the exams will be written and others will involve role plays.
How will students be affected?
Preparing to sit the SQE
Note that the SQE is a set of exams rather than a course, so candidates will presumably still have to do a preparation course (although there is no rule requiring this).
In terms of SQE Stage 1, some universities are looking to incorporate the preparation into their undergraduate law degree so that the SQE Stage 1 can be sat after graduating.
How much will it cost?
Currently, the estimated costs for the SQE stages are:
· SQE Stage 1 = £1,100 - £1,650
· SQE Stage 2 = £1,900 - £2,850
But note that these figures do not include the fees for preparation courses.
When will the SQE system start?
Under current proposals, the SQE will be introduced at the earliest in September 2021 – but delays are expected!
After the SQE is introduced there will be a long transition period where the SQE will run alongside the old system (details of which are yet to be agreed).
The SRA say that they will recognise the LPC until 2032 and so students who begin their legal education before the SQE regime begins will be allowed the flexibility to choose between pursuing the SQE or the old system.
However, practically speaking, firms may not want to take candidates from both old and new systems and so may insist that future trainee intakes from 2022 all undertake the SQE, so this is something that should be borne in mind.