The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) if done with a prep course is a similar cost to the Legal Practice Course (LPC) e.g. a post-graduate diploma with SQE 1 is £13k without the cost of the exam.
In theory you can do the exams without a prep course but we’re doubtful this will happen.
Most aspiring solicitors will continue to apply to firms who offer training contracts two years in advance with the SQE exams and prep sponsored.
Self-funding the SQE prep and exams will be a risk without a job to go to (and unaffordable for many).
Qualifying Work Experience
Flexibility. Under the SQE route trainees can train in up to four separate establishments (law firms and a range of organisations). With the LPC route, most aspiring solicitors do a two year fixed training contract. Currently it’s rare for trainees to move during their training; this will change. Law firms who don’t fund the SQE are the most likely to see a churn in trainees coming, becoming competent, then moving to a competitor during their training period. We think most larger firms will stick to training contracts.
At smaller firms there’s likely to be a job opening (e.g. legal assistant) which becomes a route to qualifying as the aspiring solicitor becomes more productive.
Under the LPC route most aspiring lawyers get a training contract and then have a number of seat rotations (e.g. 4).
Under both the SQE and LPC route we think firms will reduce their seat rotation numbers (e.g. to 1, 2 and 3 seat training contracts).
Some firms have paralegals who are doing similar work to trainees. In this case paralegals may want their experience to count as “qualifying work experience” (they need two years of QWE to qualify). If agreed to sign-off, paralegals who complete the SQE exams will qualify. This will replace doing the CILEX then the LPC for many aspiring solicitors. Funding of the SQE prep and exams will remain a barrier to qualifying.
We think law firm trainee salaries will rise. The SQE route opens up the possibility of trainees moving around. Movement pushes salaries up because firms increase their current salaries as a retention tool. Law firms who didn’t fund the LPC might be more likely to fund the SQE exams and prep courses as a retention tool. Whether trainees move firms during training is hard to predict because it’ll depend on supply and demand. If (law firm) salaries at this level rise, it’s likely to reduce opportunities to gain entry into the profession.
The biggest change as we see it, aside from the difference of doing two central exams, is flexibility. The flexibility opens up the possibility for trainees to move during their training. We think this will cause training contracts to reduce the number of seat rotations and push salaries up. If we’re right this might reduce the number of opportunities to train in the sector.