• 16 December 2019
  • Legal

The Solicitors’ Qualifying Exam (SQE): What's going to change?

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. 

For a little more information on that, see my first blog here.

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

#law

2. What is going to change?

The Solicitors’ Qualifying Exam (SQE) is set to eventually replace the current route to qualification in England and Wales, from degree all the way through to training contract and beyond.

Under the current system, there are two most popular and traditional routes to qualification. 

The first is to spend three years completing your LLB (Bachelor of Laws; or equivalent law undergraduate degree) and then take your LPC (Legal Practice Course). You will either secure a two year training contract before or after you’ve completed your LPC. 

The second is to complete a conversion course such as the GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) after completing an undergraduate degree in an academic subject, before taking the LPC. 

Either way, successful completion of the LPC is the key to beginning a 2 year training contract with a single firm (on the most part), after which you can qualify as a solicitor.

The routes I’ve just described are, again, by far the most traditional and popular routes. There are other routes to becoming a solicitor (which I’ll focus on at the start of the new year), but as with the two pathways above, you require an LPC to achieve qualification.

Under the new SQE guidelines, the LPC will be gone.

And the changes don’t stop there. 

To begin with, those qualifying through SQE will no longer require a law degree or conversion course. As long as you’ve completed your degree (or degree level equivalent experience), you will be able to sit stages 1 and 2 of the SQEs.

As we’d all expect, you cannot pass onto stage 2 until you’ve passed stage 1. Stage 1 is expected to be a multiple choice exam, whilst stage 2 will focus on practical exams and assessments of your legal skills.

After this, the aforementioned changes to training contracts come into play.

Not only can this training contract now be spread across up to four different legal employers or institutions, it’s also going to be possible to start your training contract before, during, or after taking your SQEs. 

Whilst it’s expected you’ll have at least completed stage 1 prior to training, it would seemingly be possible (though potentially rare) to complete your two years’ training prior to sitting any of your exams.

After successful completion of a degree (or equivalent), four training seats, and two SQE stages, the SRA will check the suitability and quality of candidates before deciding eligibility to join the Solicitors’ Roll.

These changes will completely redefine the way in which solicitors have qualified since the LPC replaced the Law Society’s Final Examination in 1993, and replaces the four principal routes to qualification which were put into effect in 1976.

 

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

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