Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE): What you need to know

Published On: May 1, 2017

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Currently solicitors qualify in a number of ways. Those ways have been outlined by us in our LinkedIn post here

The most common route for a solicitor to qualify is:

  1. By completing a qualifying law degree (or completing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) if their undergraduate was not a qualifying law degree)
  2. By completing the Legal Practice Course (the LPC)
  3. By gaining a two year training contract in a law firm/in-house legal team (also called the “period of recognised training”)
  4. By completing the Professional Skills Course (PSC); and
  5. By being admitted to the Roll of Solicitors (and passing the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) character and suitability requirements)

Typically, the above route from start to finish takes a minimum of six years.

The new route: Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) 

From 2020, this traditional route (and all other routes) are being replaced by the Solicitors Qualifying Examination. Initially aspiring solicitors will have the choice of whether to qualify under the old route (subject to availability), or take the new route. From 2024, aspiring solicitors will be required to take the new route to qualification.

Under the new route to qualifying, aspiring solicitors will need to:

  1. Hold a degree (not necessarily in law) or an apprenticeship (or equivalent); and
  2. Pass a new centralised exam, called the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). (This is replacing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Professional Skills Course (PSC) – all of which are being phased out and will cease to exist); and
  3. Have undertaken a substantial period of workplace training which will have been for a likely minimum period of 18 months; qualifying legal experience will need to have been obtained either through a SRA-regulated entity or under supervision of a solicitor in a non-SRA regulated entity.  It is likely law firms will continue to provide training contracts which satisfies this training requirement and aspiring solicitors will continue to apply for training contracts.  However, the key change is flexibility; some solicitors will qualify by gaining paralegal experience; and
  4. As is the case now, for admission to the Roll of Solicitors, aspiring solicitors will have to meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) character and suitability requirements.

More information about the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)

  1. The exam is likely to consist of two stages – 1 and 2. The overall content of these exams will cover the knowledge and breadth of skills required to become a solicitor. Stage 1 is likely to be taken by an aspiring solicitor prior to any work-based experience, and stage 2 will be at the end of their qualifying work experience.
  1. Stage 1 of the exam will focus on legal knowledge. There are six functioning legal assessments and one practical legal skills assessment.  Those are:
  • Principles of the Professional Conduct, Public and Administrative Law and the Legal Systems of England and Wales
  • Dispute Resolution in Contract or Tort;
  • Property Law and Practice;
  • Commercial and Corporate Law and Practice;
  • Wills and the Administration of Estates and Trusts;
  • Criminal Law and Practice
  • Legal Research and Writing.
  1. Stage 2 of the exam will focus on practical legal skills. 2 x 5 practical skills assessments:
  • Client Interviewing;
  • Advocacy/Persuasive Oral Communication;
  • Case and Matter Analysis;
  • Legal Research and Written Advice;
  • Legal Drafting.

All five assessments must be taken and passed in the same two practice contexts of the candidate’s choice, making a total of ten assessments.  The practice contexts are: Criminal Practice, Dispute Resolution, Property; Wills and Administration of Estates; Commercial and Corporate Practice.

  1. Costs are yet to be established, but the Solicitors Regulation Authority suggests that the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will cost students less than the Legal Practice Course, with stage 1 being “fairly inexpensive”.
  1. Aspiring solicitors must pass all of SQE stage 1 and SQE stage 2 assessments. The Solicitors Regulation Authority would provide aspiring solicitors with their scores for each of the modules but grades would only be “pass” or “fail”.
  1. Results of the SQE will be published on an anonymised basis. The Solicitors Regulation Authority plans to publish a report on:
  • The pass mark
  • The number of candidates who sat the assessment
  • The pass rate
  • The distribution of candidate scores
  • The proportion of candidates passing and failing the SQE

The individual scores of named candidates would not be made publicly available, however, recruiters and employers would be free to ask for SQE scores.

  1. The Solicitors Regulation Authority will be working to choose an assessment partner – who will be an expert provider and who can help the Solicitors Regulation Authority design the exam, and ensure the depth and breadth of the assessment and curriculum are fit for purpose. In doing so, the Solicitors Regulation Authority will be seeking help from students, the public, law firms and educators to help establish the content of the exam.  It is anticipated that an assessment partner will be appointed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2018.

Why the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) are making these changes

Among the various reasons for bringing in these changes are:

  1. The SRA want to ensure that all practising solicitors reach the same high professional standards.  At present because there are so many different routes to qualifying as a solicitor, the regulator, the SRA does not know whether practising solicitors reach the same high standards under the current system.
  2. The SRA want law firms to be confident that anyone who has the title “solicitor” from having qualified by taking the same Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will have been required to meet a consistent high professional standard.
  3. The SRA want recruiters in law firms to understand that the pass mark achieved from taking the SQE should mean more than what university an aspiring solicitors went to.
  4. Under the present system, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) is a gamble for aspiring solicitors. Not everyone who completes it secures a training contract/entry into the legal profession. This means that aspiring solicitors are sometimes paying up to £15,000 and not qualifying as solicitors.
  5. Pass rates on the Legal Practice Course vary substantially; the regulator, the SRA, does not understand why these rates vary so much.
  6. Only half of the c.5,000 law firms who are authorised to take trainees employ any trainees.
  7. Obtaining a training contract is one the main barriers to qualifying as a solicitor; the SQE may mean firms have more flexibility to offer qualifying experience.

You can read full information here.

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