Moving firmly away from the traditional route of qualifying as a solicitor, the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (or ‘SQE’ as it’s usually referred to) is set to create a whole new system of exams which solicitors will be required to pass at the point of qualifying.
In this article we answer some of the most frequently asked questions already being asked to help Law students understand what’s next on the horizon.
Q: What is the new qualifying exam?
The SQE is primarily aimed to ensure all solicitors meet the Statement of Legal Competence laid down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, through the completion of two key stages.
Q: Will the new SQE replace the Legal Practice Course and Graduate Diploma in Law?
Yes. However, it won’t come into effect until September 2021 and won’t affect those already undertaking either the LPC or GDL. In fact, students can expect a long transition period from 2021 to ensure that those already on one of the former courses will still be able to qualify without being affected by the new changes. Indeed, the Solicitors Regulation Authority will continue to recognise the LPC until 2032, although it’s anticipated that law firms will merge onto the SQE from 2022 in order to avoid conflicting training methods.
Q: Why are the changes being made?
The key principle behind the SQE is to provide more flexibility around qualifying, thus introducing more routes into the legal profession. A solicitor apprenticeship will enable school leavers to qualify in 6 years, whilst LPC students and other graduates will be able to qualify through the equivalent means route. Regardless of the route pursued, the SQE will still remain the final assessment point.
Q: What will the assessment criteria look like?
The new SQE will be divided into two stages. Whilst the first stage will cover legal knowledge the second will test practical skills in real-life scenarios. In essence, however, the SQE shares many similarities with the law degree and GDL in that it still covers the seven foundations of legal knowledge.
The proposed format for SQE Stage 1 is to split assessments into two exams; the first being a 3 hour written exam containing around 160 multiple-choice questions. The second exam will again be written but will focus more specifically on legal research and writing skills.
SQE Stage 2 will then cover the practical skills, similar to those already contained within the LPC.
Q: Will any time limits apply?
Yes. As soon as a student passes SQE Stage 1 they’ll then have 6 years to complete the full years and pass SQE Stage 2. Students will have 3 attempts to pass the SQE during this period (i.e. the exam itself and then 2 resits).
Q: What are the likely costs to complete the SQE?
Whilst these are yet to be confirmed, the likely cost for the SQE will be up to £4,500.00 although this is just for the examinations and doesn’t take into account the cost of any preparatory classes.
Q: How will regulate or oversee the new process?
The SQE is being introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and managed by Kaplan.
Quite how well received the new changes will be received yet remains to be seen, of course. However, if correctly positioned, the SQE could certainly open up more doors into the legal profession which certainly can’t be seen as a bad thing – particularly at a time when equality and diversity is hugely encouraged.