Should you wait to do the SQE?
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has recently confirmed plans to launch the Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) from 2020. As a result, the press is full of articles announcing the impending death of the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC). This is confusing for students currently studying on those courses and those thinking about a career as a solicitor.
If you are currently studying the LLB or a GDL, or looking to start one by 2020, the SRA have indicated you will have a choice to sit the new SQE or qualify under the current rules. This is because the SRA have said there will be a long transitional period.
How do I qualify as a solicitor under the current rules?*
Students must complete an LLB (or other degree + GDL) followed by an LPC and a two-year Period of Recognised Training (AKA the ‘Training Contract’) with a law firm or other legal services provider.
How will I qualify as a solicitor under the new rules?*
The current SRA proposals indicate that students must complete any degree or equivalent, though not necessarily a law degree, and pass the SQE 1. This is followed by two years of work experience before sitting SQE 2.
*In both cases you must meet the character and suitability test for the profession
What do SQE1 and SQE2 look like?
These will be centralised assessments set by an independent body appointed by the SRA. The idea is that everyone should sit the same test, so the public can be sure that everyone has met the same standard. This means that law schools won’t set their own exams anymore.
The current SQE 1 proposal is to combine six online tests covering material you currently study in your LLB, GDL and LPC:
- Principles of professional conduct, public and administrative law and the legal systems of England and Wales
- Dispute resolution in contract or tort
- Property law and practice
- Commercial and corporate law and practice
- Wills and the administration of estates and trusts
- Criminal law and practice
In addition to this there will be a practical legal skills assessment, testing your legal research and writing skills. However, please note that the syllabus for SQE1 has not yet been confirmed by the SRA.
SQE 2 is only taken only once you have passed all the SQE 1 exams. This will be a skills simulation test where you interview a client, undertake some advocacy and complete some more writing, research and drafting exercises along with some case analysis. Crucially, this will be after your qualifying work experience and not before.
The SRA are indicating that your work experience could be made up from up to four placements lasting a minimum of 6 months each. This could include university law clinics and paralegal roles. You will also have to prove you have had the opportunity to develop the skills required of a solicitor during those placements, then demonstrate this by passing SQE 2.
Some reasons to wait until 2020 to do the SQE
- There is a possibility the SQE exams and preparation courses might be cheaper than the GDL or LPC. This depends upon the provider and is yet to be confirmed.
- You won’t have to study any electives to qualify under the new route. This means the SQE preparation courses might be shorter than the GDL or LPC.
- More law firms might start taking on graduate apprentices who will sit the SQE as part of their apprenticeship. You could be lucky enough to secure an apprenticeship instead of a Training Contract which means you will ‘earn and learn’ at the same time.
- There could be more chance of getting work experience placements required under the new rules rather than one of the more elusive formal Training Contract offers.
- You are not in any rush to qualify and you have time to wait and see how the two systems compare in terms of price, difficulty and reputation.
Reasons to qualify under the current system before 2020
- Who wants to be a guinea pig? The law degree, GDL and LPC are well-established courses run by law schools for years.
- The SRA have a point to prove about quality and standards. There are indications that pass marks for the SQE 1 and 2 will be high, with the exams being tougher.
- How far are you through the current system? Do you really want to wait until 2020 to progress to the next stage of becoming qualified?
- The legal profession has raised many objections to the SQE proposals and employers may not value it as highly in the early years. Employers could be more likely to understand your GDL and LPC qualifications.
- The SRA will no longer require trainees to get experience in three different areas of law. Nor will you have to have experience of both contentious and non-contentious work. This means that future work experience opportunities might be more limited in scope for you.