• 18 November 2019
  • Legal

The Solicitors’ Qualifying Exam (SQE): What is it and when will it take effect?

The New SRA Exam: a bit of what you need to know.

Unless it’s pushed back, in September 2021 the way solicitors qualify in England and Wales is expected to undergo a radical change. With 2020 coming up pretty quickly, now is the perfect time to have a look at a little bit of what you need to know about the “SQE”. 

As many of those looking to secure future training contracts for 2021 and beyond will know, the crossover from the current qualification processes to the “SQE regime”  is much closer than it seems.

In case that sounds a little ominous, I should mention that the current modes of qualification will still be available for some time as the SQE settles in, and 1st September 2021 isn’t going to herald the flipping of a switch or an instant shift akin to putting back the clocks a month early. 

I’ll come back to that a little later on.

Over the next couple of months, I’m going to tackle one of these four elephants in the room at a time:

  • What is the Solicitors’ Qualifying Exam (SQE)​?
  • What is going to change?
  • How likely does it look that the SQE will be in place by 2021?
  • Is this just a British version of the Bar exam?

First thing’s first, what is the SQE?

The Solicitors’ Qualifying Exam (SQE), is the Solicitors Regulation Authority's (SRA) new assessment for all would-be solicitors. 

According to the SRA, the SQE presents the shift toward a more centralised qualification. It has been designed in order to ensure that all would-be solicitors will be required to meet the same high standards.

This new exam system will take over the current one which traditionally requires trainees to have completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) (or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) followed by the LPC depending on their undergraduate degree) before they can commence with their contract.

I will focus more on the changes which the SQE will bring to the current (traditional) forms of qualification in my next blog, but for the moment - future solicitors will be required to pass both stages of the SQEs to be able to qualify. 

Stage 1 is set to be a multiple choice examination, whereas Stage 2 will focus on the practical skills required in law. The SRA has piloted parts of the Stage 1 multiple choice exam in March, and whilst the results weren’t as promising as they’d perhaps hoped, the overall aim to begin the switch to SQEs in 2021 remains. 

The SRA are currently in consultation about how the change-over will be realised, but it is expected that for a smooth transition the hand-over would realistically last years. According to the University of Law, anyone who begins the process before 2032 (to be confirmed), will be allowed to choose between traditional qualification and SQE.

 

Charlotte Scotland is a Resourcing Consultant in the Legal Division at Harvey John.

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