The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) has announced a new route to qualification for all aspiring solicitors in England and Wales starting from 1 September 2021. The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route will replace the existing Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). The new system has been introduced by SRA to set high professional standards and ensure that all qualifying solicitors are examined consistently, nevertheless of the chosen route into the world of law.
How does the LPC and SQE differ?
As mentioned above, the SQE is new, single, and rigorous assessment for all qualifying solicitors. This means that after 1 September 2021 there will no longer be an option to choose to qualify through the LPC route.
Here is a breakdown of both qualification routes which will highlight how they differ:
Traditional (LPC) qualification system
Step 1 – LLB or GDL – obtain a Qualifying Law degree (LLB) or alternatively if you have studied a different undergraduate degree, you can acquire Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) course.
Step 2 – LPC – complete Legal Practice Course.
Step 3 – Training Contract – undergo a two-year Training Contract in law firm.
Step 4 – PSC – complete and pass the Professional Skills Course
Final Step – Apply to the SRA to be registered and formally admitted so you can practice as solicitor.
SQE qualification system
Step 1 – Undergraduate Degree – obtain a Qualifying Law degree (LLB) or equivalent.
Step 2 – SQE1 – This is also referred to as SQE stage 1 where the candidate must pass six multiple choices Functioning Legal Knowledge Assessments and it examines the candidate’s ‘functional’ legal knowledge. This must be passed before you can take the SQE2 assessment. The SRA recommends that the SQE1 assessment is completed before undertaking a period of work experience.
Step 3 – SQE2 – The SQE stage 2 tests the candidate’s practical legal skills. During this stage, the candidate must pass five Practical Legal Skills Assessments, which must be taken in two different practice contexts of choice e.g., dispute resolution or corporate practice. This is both a written and verbal assessment. The SRA has stated that candidates would typically complete the SQE2 at the end of their work experience.
Step 4 – QWE – The candidates must complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). This is a more flexible approach to legal training than the previous training contract process. Under the new system variety of work can contribute to QWE and the qualifying solicitors can acquire the necessary work experience via voluntary work, and it is not limited to work in one establishment. This can include a formal training contract, working in a student law clinic, apprentice/paralegal experience, and a placement as part of the undergraduate degree.
Final Step – The final stage requires the candidate to satisfy the SRA character and suitability requirements.
Preparing for the SQE
With regard to preparation for the SQE exams there is no regulatory requirement to complete any specific preparation courses for the assessments. However, this has been advised as it can increase the candidate’s prospects of passing the exams.
Also, there are no specific guidelines as to how long each candidate must study before taking the SQE exams. However, it has been suggested that the preparation in total could take between 9 – 12 months for both exams (SQE1 and SQE2). However, some qualifying solicitors could also extend their studies over a longer period between 12 – 18 months.
The total cost of the Legal Practice Course route was between £7,500 and £17,000, depending on which institution was chosen for this course.
The total cost of SQE assessments is £3,980. In particular, the SQE1 assessment costs £1,558 and the SQE2 assessment fee is £2,422. However, there are still additional costs involved with regard to the pre SQE preparation course.
- It is more cost effective.
- You do not necessarily need to complete a Training Contract to qualify as a solicitor.
- This route of qualification allows to study towards SQE exams whilst working.