What is the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE)?
The solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) is the new professional qualification you need to obtain if you want to become a solicitor in England and Wales.
The solicitors qualifying examination (SQE) is the new assessment for qualifying solicitors and replaces the legal practice course (LPC). The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) introduced the new standardised assessment with the aim of guaranteeing consistently high standards at the entry point to the profession and to allow more flexibility over qualification.
Please note that if you have already completed, started, accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit for a qualifying law degree, law conversion course (such as a graduate diploma in law or ‘GDL’) or LPC before 1 September 2021, you will have the option to qualify via the existing route, with no changes to the current qualification system, until 31 December 2032 as long as courses still exist. You can also choose to take the new route. After this year (2021), all would-be solicitors (who haven’t yet started a law degree, conversion course or LPC) will need to qualify through the SQE.
How is the SQE different from the LPC?
The SQE differs from the LPC in that it is no longer a one-year ‘course’ that must be undertaken, but instead takes the form of two sets of exams. Where the GDL and LPC exams were set and graded by the individual course providers themselves and the standards could vary from provider to provider, the SQE is a centrally set and graded assessment, meaning that all qualifying solicitors will sit the same exams.
The SRA hopes that this new route will make qualification more accessible by lowering the costs compared to the GDL and LPC. Students will either pass or fail the SQE – there will be no distinctions or commendations. The SQE assessment will be divided into two stages and stage one must be passed before stage two can be attempted. These are commonly referred to as SQE1 and SQE2. The total fee for taking both SQE assessments is £3,980 (£1,558 for SQE1 and £2,422 for SQE2), although this does not include training costs.
Alongside the exams, you will also need to undertake two years of qualifying work experience. This qualifying work experience would take the form of a ‘training contract’ under the LPC and, while it is still likely that law firms will offer a two-year period of professional training, under the SQE it is not essential that you complete all of the training with one employer, nor that it needs to be completed in one sitting. You can undertake work experience with up to four different employers and qualifying work experience may extend beyond the traditional ‘trainee seats’ within a single firm. You will need a degree before you take the SQE exams, but unlike its predecessor, there is no longer a need to have completed a law degree or, if you studied a non-law degree, a conversion course such as the GDL. It should be noted, however, that it would be incredibly difficult to pass the SQE without any prior academic study in law and SQE preparation study. Course providers have already begun to adapt their former conversion courses to the new qualification method, offering a variety of conversion-course style training alongside SQE preparation courses, including a new version of the GDL known as the postgraduate diploma in law (PGDL).
What is the SQE1 assessment?
The first stage will test an aspiring solicitor’s ability to apply fundamental legal knowledge (such as criminal law, contract law and tort) and ethics through multiple-choice, single-best-answer questions. The questions may draw on any combination of practice areas on the SRA’s established subject areas:
- business law and practice; dispute resolution; contract; tort; legal system of England and Wales; constitutional and administrative law and EU law and legal services; and
- property practice; wills and the administration of estates; solicitors accounts; land law; trusts; criminal law and practice.
You can find sample tests on the SRA’s website.
What is the SQE2 assessment?
The second stage will test a candidate’s practical legal skills (for example client interviewing, legal drafting and advocacy) in conjunction with legal knowledge through assessments including role-play and written exercises. The skills that will be tested during SQE2 across the practice areas from SQE1 are:
- client interview and attendance note/legal analysis;
- case and matter analysis;
- legal research;
- legal writing; and
- legal drafting.
Again, you can find practice tests on the SRA’s website.
What counts as work experience for the SQE?
The SRA will continue to require aspiring solicitors to complete two years’ worth of pre-qualification legal work experience we mentioned earlier in this article. Valid experience includes vacation schemes, paralegal work, placements, student law clinic work and training contracts, and these can be completed across a maximum of four organisations. Students may complete this experience before, during or after sitting the SQE exams, but their work experience must be completed when they apply for admission as a solicitor. The SRA expects that many candidates will take SQE1 before their work-based experience, and the more expensive SQE2 at the end of their work experience.