The Solicitors Qualifying Examination – what does it mean for me?

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The SRA have recently confirmed that both the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) will be replaced by a single route to qualification. After September 2020, aspiring lawyers will have to take the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. The dust has since settled but people are still asking; what does the SQE mean for me? With that in mind the Leeds Junior Lawyers Division (LJLD) thought it would be useful (hopefully!) to consolidate what we know about the SQE and how it might affect you.

What are the SQE requirements to qualify as a solicitor?

1. A degree or equivalent (in any subject);

2. SQE Part 1 (testing core legal knowledge that ordinarily may have been covered in the law degree or GDL);

3. Work experience of two years to develop the required skills of a solicitor;

4. SQE Part 2 (testing the skills required to qualify);

5. Character and suitability test (which all trainees must currently pass with the SRA); and

What is the cost of the SQE?

At this moment in time the cost of the SQE has not been published. The SRA have stated that that the SQE will be cheaper than the current traditional route of a degree and LPC. The position is currently out to tender and we should have further information on costs once the provider is confirmed in the first half of 2018.

What will the exam look like?

The exam will be split into two parts. The first part of the examination will test legal knowledge and the second part will test practical skills. There will be a mixture of multiple choice questions and essay type questions. The exam will be assessed on a pass/ fail basis and be modular.

Do I need to have a degree to take the SQE?

Within the early consultations the SRA proposed that anyone could take the SQE, but this was strongly criticised by respondents. The SRA have now confirmed that you will need to have a degree or equivalent before you are eligible to take the SQE, though not necessarily a law degree.

I am currently doing my LPC, what does this mean for me?

If you have begun a qualifying law degree, CPE (common professional examination)/ GDL, LPC or period of recognised training before September 2020 you would be able to choose whether or not to qualify under the old route or to take the SQE. If you choose to take the SQE, you will need to meet all of its requirements. However, if you start a law degree or postgraduate conversion course from September 2020 it will be mandatory to take the SQE.

There will be a longstop date where you will no longer be able to continue on the old route and, if the SQE is implemented in September 2020, the longstop date is expected to be September 2031.

I was thinking about doing the LPC, should I wait and complete the SQE instead?

In addition to the advice at the question above, you should consider at what stage you will need to undertake a two year training contract (period of recognised training). At this stage, no one is sure how law firms will react to these changes and there is a risk that a training contract will no longer exist and you will instead have to do the work-experience element of SQE. This would mean you would instead need to follow the SQE route and pass SQE part 1 and 2, plus the work experience requirement. If you enrol on an LPC and then are unable to obtain a training contract, you would ultimately be paying a lot more having first paid for the LPC and then SQE.

Will I still need to do a training contract?

Instead of a training contract you will now undertake two years’ qualifying work experience. Work experience can be undertaken at a maximum of four organisations and can include volunteer work and paralegal work. Unlike previously, the work experience element of the SQE does not need to be completed in a continuous two year period. It is not yet clear whether the work experience element will have a maximum period.

If you are meeting law firms at law fairs or interviews, ask them about the future of training contracts and how they expect the firm to adapt to these changes. Even if they don’t know the answers, you’ll demonstrate an awareness of what’s happening in the legal world!

How many times can the SQE be taken?

Initially the SRA indicated that the SQE could be taken any number of times. This caused widespread criticism and as such the SRA now say that the SQE may be taken a maximum of three times.

What if I am a lawyer qualified abroad, will I have to take the SQE?

Initially the SRA stated that no one would be exempt from the SQE, however, the SRA have since backtracked and are currently consulting on whether there will be exemptions for lawyers who have qualified abroad. Within their consultation of May 2017, the SRA propose that lawyers qualified abroad will need to show that they have the competences set out in the Statement of Solicitor Competence; the knowledge of English and Welsh law; have a degree, qualification or experience equivalent to a degree and satisfy the character and suitability requirements. It is not yet understood whether lawyers qualified abroad will be exempt from part or the whole of the SQE.

I am a barrister/ legal executive and would like to qualify as a solicitor, do I need to undertake the SQE?

Similar to the response outlined above, there are likely to be exemptions for elements of the SQE for barristers and legal executives. The SRA have not yet provided a huge amount of information at this time and further information is anticipated.

In addition, the Bar is currently consulting on changing its route to qualification with similar proposals. However, the Bar at present will include a Qualifying Law Degree as a mandatory requirement. Therefore, if you are not yet sure whether you wish to qualify as a solicitor or barrister, it might be prudent to study a law degree or the GDL.

Not answered your question(s)? If you have any queries about the SQE please get in touch via the ‘Contact us’ page and we will try our best to assist. We also expect the SRA to release some guidance to assist further with the above before the end of 2017.