After several years in the pipeline, September 2021 finally sees the rollout of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
For people wishing to qualify as a solicitor, this new route into the profession replaces the previous Legal Practice Course (LPC).
Under the LPC route a person aiming to become a solicitor would have to have a qualifying law degree, or the Common Professional Examination (CPE)/ Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). They would then have to pass the LPC, obtain a training contract and complete the period of recognised training for two years. All potential solicitors must pass character and suitability requirements.
The purpose of the SQE is to allow more access to the profession, to open it up to those from a 'non-law' background. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) say that the new centralised exam will assure consistent high standards for all qualifying solicitors.
According to the SRA, in order to qualify as a new solicitor from the 21st September 2021, you must:
- have a degree in any subject or a qualification or experience that is equivalent to a degree, such as a solicitor apprenticeship which combines on the job experience and training
- pass both stages of the SQE assessment - SQE1 focuses on legal knowledge and SQE2 on practical legal skills and knowledge
- two years' full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience'
- pass character and suitability requirements.
Clearly, the SRA believes the objective will be met by disposing of the requirement for a law-based degree.
In terms of the assessments SQE 1 and SQE 2, the SRA have broken down the contents of the exams to help students understand what they will face when tested.
SQE 1 will feature 2 x 180 question multiple-choice answer exams (360 questions in total). These questions will be based on Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK) in the areas of:
- Criminal Law and Practice
- Business Law and Practice
- Legal Services
- Administrative and Constitutional Law
- EU Law
- Dispute Resolution
- The Legal System of England and Wales
- Solicitors Accounts
- Property Practice
- Land Law
- Wills, Trusts and the Administration of Estates
- Professional Conduct and Ethics
A fee of £1,558 is required to sit SQE1. When you have passed SQE1, you will be eligible to take the next assessment, SQE2.
SQE2 differs from the previous assessments in that it is more concerned with applying practical skills such as interviewing clients, taking instructions, legal research, advice and advocacy, and the drafting of the legal documents. Some of the assessment will consist of role play scenarios at approved centres across England and Wales and internationally, whilst the drafting, legal research and written advice assessments will take at specialised centres in England and Wales only, to ensure consistency.
SQE2 costs £2422. All assessments across SQE1 & 2 must be completed within 6 years from the time you begin.
For those would-be solicitors that have already begun the qualifying process and are at the undergraduate, postgraduate or training stage, they are still able to continue under the LPC route and have until 2032 to complete their training, providing that services still exist at that point.
It is impossible to predict the success of this new scheme. Some critics have argued that, for a system put in place with the aim of making the profession more accessible, the fees involved in qualifying through the SQE route are as prohibitively expensive as the LPC. Not only will most students need separate preparatory courses for both SQE 1 and SQE 2, they must also factor in the cost of sitting the individual assessments. These figures combined are comparable to the existing path.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.