Opinion blog: The SQE’s potential unintended consequences

Published On: June 27, 2023

01603 516261   |    07960 743650   |    info@olsenrecruitment.com

01603 516261      07960 743650      info@olsenrecruitment.com

The way solicitors qualify is changing. Whilst the Legal Practice Course (LPC) is authorised to run until the end of the 2025/26 academic year, it is expected the demand for the LPC will reduce as it is replaced by the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Exam) route.

From our analysis, we have identified three potential unintended consequences of the new route:

1. The competition for training contracts is going to be even tougher

Before, you needed to have a qualifying law degree or graduate diploma in law to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) to become a solicitor.

But now, anyone with any degree (or equivalent qualification) can take the Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQE).

Whilst it is likely the legal sector will become more diverse in the future due to this change, it also means that people from all sorts of backgrounds – like business, arts or economics – will be competing for training contracts.

Removing the law degree or graduate diploma in law barrier to entry could actually make getting a training job in a law firm even more competitive than before.

2. Law firms will poach trainees from each other

With the new system, trainee solicitors can gather evidence of their training and register it with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) themselves. Plus, they can complete their two years of “qualifying work experience” (QWE) in up to four different legal organisations.

This is a big deal, because it means law firms can poach trainees from each other.

We’ve already observed at least five firms in East Anglia who have hired current trainees from elsewhere; this is a new trend.

Trainees who have had 12+ months’ experience will be particularly attractive to rival law firms.

Some law firms can offer better work, pay, benefits and prospects to lure away the best trainees.

Whilst this is good for trainees because it means more choice, there could be a negative impact on smaller firms, who might train people for a short time before losing them.

3. The Impact on Salaries

Enabling trainees to move around could have an impact on salaries, too. If law firms want to keep their trainees, they’ll have to raise salaries to prevent them from jumping ship.

In Norwich for instance, some trainee salaries are in the early 20s and trainees bear the cost of their SQE costs; however the more premium law firms sponsor the SQE and have trainee salaries beginning with a 3. Such a difference in pay is an incentive for trainees to want to move firms during their training.

What’s more, there are many trainees working in the regions who really wanted to be City trainees; this means some will pursue moving during their training period to realise their ‘City lawyer’ dream.

Enabling law firms to attract trainees from elsewhere could drive up salaries for trainees overall, and in the long-run this might also mean that fewer training jobs are available.

What do you think?

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