What is the SQE and how will it affect entry into the legal profession?

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What is the SQE?  

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is a new system of exams prospective solicitors can take before qualifying as a solicitor. The SQE will be introduced in autumn 2021 and will eventually replace the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC). Instead, candidates must pass two stages of exams and complete two years of qualifying work experience.  

The SQE involves two stages:  

  • Stage One:  SQE1  
  • Made up of two exams that test how candidates apply their legal knowledge in real-life scenarios across different practice areas.  
  • Stage Twp: SQE2  
  • Involves oral and written exams which test candidates on their ‘core legal skills’ such as drafting contracts and interviewing clients.   

Under the SQE route, candidates will still need to complete two years of qualifying legal work experience, but unlike the traditional training contract model, this can be completed at a maximum of four organisations. The experience can be either paid or unpaid and should provide candidates with the opportunity to develop the prescribed competencies for solicitors. Working in a paralegal legal or volunteering at a law centre would count towards the SQE’ s qualifying work experience requirements. 

How does the introduction of the SQE impact entry into the legal profession? 

One of the purposes of changing the rotation to qualify as a solicitor is to minimise one of the main barriers in entering the legal profession, securing the traditional training contract.  Training contracts are notoriously difficult to secure, it is estimated that 30,000 students apply for the 5,5000 training contracts that are available every year. The qualifying legal work experience under the SQE is designed to offer candidates more flexibility compared to the training contract of the LPC. The SQE route allows candidates to complete their legal work experience in more than one organisation and includes a variety of legal experience. 

Another reason for introducing the SQE was to ensure all trainee solicitors sit the same qualifying exam, therefore ensuring consistency and high standards. Prior to the introduction of the SQE, there were many reports of inconsistency in the pass rates across the LPC and GDL. As a result, the SRA introduced the SQE to ensure solicitors have the same, high stands on the first day of qualification regardless of their background and the route they have taken to enter the legal profession. 

While the Solicitors Regulation Authority argues the SQE will enable more diversity in the legal progressions, law firms disagree, with some arguing the SQE will allow candidates to qualify without acquiring the skills necessary for becoming a solicitor. 

Furthermore, it is argued that the plans to make the legal profession more accessible by lowering the cost of study, in comparison to the GDL and LPC, is unrealistic. While the total cost of taking both SQE assessments is less than the total cost of the LPC and GDL, it does not include the cost of SQE preparation courses or retakes. 

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