The SQE: What is it and when will it take effect?

‘The New SRA Exam: 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 these four elephants in the room:

First things 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 need 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 the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) followed by the LPC depending on their undergraduate degree. This will be before they can commence with their contract.

I will focus on the changes the SQE will bring to the current (traditional) forms of qualification next time. So what do you need to know now? 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 piloted parts of the Stage 1 multiple choice exam in March. Whilst the results weren’t as promising as they’d 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. However, it is expected that for a smooth transition, the handover 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.

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