Postgraduate study and qualifications

What to do now you’ve completed your LPC – advice from the University of Law

24 Aug 2023, 15:57

The qualifying process for becoming a solicitor has changed. Read on to discover your next steps if you have completed the ‘old-style’ legal practice course qualification, with advice from an associate professor at the University of Law.

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Daniel Cowan is an associate professor and head of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) at the University of Law. Here he offers insights into how students who complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) can access the SQE process if they do not have a training contract lined up.

Discover more about the solicitors qualifying examination in the targetjobs advice feature ‘What is the SQE?’

Can you still get a training contract now that the SQE has been introduced?

We’re in a transitional period for the SQE, so the two-year training contract does still exist, but may be harder to find because a number of firms are offering Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) instead. This is the new way of gaining the in-practice experience that leads on to the professional qualification for solicitors.

Be mindful that some firms are using terminology interchangeably and talk about a training contract when they really mean QWE. Examine the detail: the firm may actually be looking for people who have completed SQEs rather than an LPC, so make sure that everybody is talking about the same thing.

So, what if you have done an LPC but have not secured a training contract?

The good news is that the LPC exempts you from SQE1 and you have the option of going straight on to the SQE2 assessment, which covers the skills aspect of the SQE regime. You will have already done some skills training, but the SQE2 skills aspect is bigger than that in the LPC, so you might wish to do an SQE2 Preparation Course of the type that the University of Law provides.

On passing the SQE2 assessment you go on to QWE, which is the same length as an old-style training contract, but covers something rather different. A training contract assesses your competence in various areas of law – seats. Under the new regime your competence is assessed by SQE1 and SQE2, then your QWE gives you exposure to various aspects of the law – so this is why you have to be careful of what, exactly, firms are offering.

QWE is made up of two years of experience (or equivalent), spread across up to four placements or places of employment. One of the benefits of the new regime is you can gain competencies from more than one employer and you are not confined to employers alone. At the end, a qualified solicitor confirms that you have been exposed to certain legal areas.

Think of it this way: if you have completed an LPC but have no training contract you can jump on to the SQE train at a station slightly further down the line than if you had gone through the whole SQE process. It might be a slower train but the destination is the same.

What are larger firms doing?

Two years ago larger firms were in LPC-land because there was a pipeline of students still going through the system. Now firms are looking to the future, and sooner or later all candidates will come via SQE. What firms have to decide currently is whether they want to have a mixed intake and offer training contracts and QWE, or whether they want to make that move with one big leap. Bear in mind my first point about being sure of what they are offering.

Which courses from the University of Law are open to those who have done an LPC and what would you recommend doing?

If you have completed an LPC and do not have a training contract the next step is the SQE2 assessment and then on to QWE. The University of Law offers a full-time SQE2 Preparation Course, which consists of five weeks’ learning, plus a mocks week and a workbook week, so seven weeks in all. The course can be done online or in person as attendance learning, part time or full time.

If you have paid work commitments you do need to consider your commitment to study. I see a lot of over-optimism among students who think they will manage but the clue is in the name: full-time work and full-time study are not compatible. There is a lot of material to absorb and very few shortcuts. Course providers do not set the SQE syllabus or assessment. The syllabus is big and the assessments are not easy, whether SQE1 or SQE2.

LPC students taking this route may be surprised to see an emphasis on Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK). Feedback we have received to date is that having completed the LPC, some tests and learning may have drifted to the back of your head. Under the SQE everything has to be front and centre and ready to be accessed. There are 16 stations made up of oral and written assessments over a 14-and-a-half hour period, so it is demanding and tough. You will have experience of skills being assessed on the LPC but skills are assessed in greater intensity under the SQE2.

Please give an overview of online versus in-person teaching and part-time versus full-time learning.

I appreciate that for some people working to earn a living while studying is a necessity, but you need to commit to the learning. Getting through your SQE2 part-time while working part-time is doable but it is not an easy option because there are only a certain number of hours in a day!

The University of Law’s attendance courses include workshops during which students work through the tasks and with each other. There are no workshops on the online courses, but there are live support sessions which allow students to raise any gnarly points. At an online campus you are obviously not physically with other students, but you can see fellow students virtually and get in touch with each other.

There’s a common misconception that online courses are somehow ‘easy’ versions of attendance mode courses. As already outlined, the SQE2 is not easy and you still have the same learning material and objectives, so it would be wrong to assume you can spend less time on online studies.

With an attendance course, if you are at a study workshop you will undertake tasks at a particular point and time. If you are studying online you do have flexibility about how that fits around your other commitments. But you have to reach the same point. What is different is the means of delivery.

How can the University of Law help students achieve their career ambitions?

Although technically you no longer need a law degree or equivalent (a conversion course) to become a solicitor, you do need a degree and to have passed SQE1 and SQE2 and completed your QWE. And to get through SQE1 and SQE2, you will need to study! The University of Law experts have looked at the assessments, sample questions and any other information available and created courses, manuals and learning materials that will give candidates the knowledge that leads to success.

We also have a very good careers service through which the University of Law students can book appointments with dedicated people. The University of Law has been in business for a long time, originally as the College of Law, and has a well-known brand based not only on recognition but also on reputation. We offer a full range of undergraduate as well as postgraduate courses that are rigorous and suited for getting people into the business of law.

What advantages does the LPC give graduates, regardless of which qualifying route they choose or ULaw course they take next?

I see students who have completed their LPC worrying about having missed out on the FLK aspect of the SQE1, which is a huge syllabus of academic law and professional practice knowledge. However, students will have gained a great deal of knowledge on their law degree or conversion course and the LPC and they can be reassured that much of that corresponds with FLK.

Having completed an LPC you will have done electives, or something similar, so will have these specialisms in different areas that are marketable to future employers. The University of Law is seeking to retain the further depth of knowledge students gained under the old regime, because firms still like that, particularly in the practice areas they undertake. If you choose to study SQE1 and SQE2 we can bundle that into a formal qualification, such as a taught masters (LLM). LPC students can transfer straight on to the SQE2 Preparation Course and get ready for the assessment rather than doing that kind of course, but that route mitigates against an LPC student getting a formal qualification. It’s a case of swings and roundabouts because if you have done an LPC you don’t have to do the SQE1.

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