This is a question that comes across a lot in recruitment, especially whilst visiting Universities and chatting to students. You may or may not know that there are lots of new changes coming in over the next couple of years that have been a very long time in the making! So we wanted to try and make things a little bit clearer from a very basic point of view (there are a lot of confusing and in depth answers online!)
What is the SQE?
From 2021 onwards instead of doing the LPC and then a two year training contract there’s going to be a whole new way of doing things called the SQE. SQE stands for Solicitor Qualifying Exam – it’s made up of two exams rather than one for each different area of Law like you might have at the moment
SQE is in two different parts and sits alongside QLE (Qualifying Work Experience) and then the usual Character and Suitability test done by the SRA – once you’ve done all that you will be a qualified solicitor.
Why has it come about?
At the moment training to be a solicitor is very very expensive. Between the day to day living costs from 3 years at Uni and 1-2 years (depending on part time) of LPC and then the actual LPC cost itself it’s a lot! And there isn’t much help with it either. That’s one of the reasons that the SQE has come about. It will cost less than £4,000 to sit both exams (not including any prep courses) and you can do it straight after your degree. You don’t even have to have a Law degree to do it, so if the thought of doing a degree, a one year GDL and then the 1-2 year LPC was daunting you can relax!
It’s also designed to make things better, more diverse and more level. At the moment some firms tend to do their recruitment from a small pool of Universities that they consider the “best of the best” and ignore everyone else. Not only does this not make sense from a candidate point of view, it doesn’t make sense from a recruitment point of view, you end up with a cohort of Trainees who are carbon copies of each other – not a good start.
So the SQE is here to make that better, no matter how you come to Law, from a highly rated University, from abroad, from a local University or through an Apprenticeship, everyone has to sit the exact same exam. Why is this a good thing? You can prove yourself. Show that your abilities as a Solicitor no matter where you’ve come from or what you’ve done! You can really put the experiences you’ve had into your answers and make them your own.
What do you mean two parts?
So the exam is split into two parts, known as SQE 1 and SQE 2. They’re two completely different things and ways of being assessed. SQE 1 is a (very large) multiple choice exam, two of them which will include 180 questions each. But it’s a best answer multiple choice. You’ll have the opportunity to show your experience through it and won’t get caught out completely if your way of doing things isn’t quite the same (different order etc.).
This one is quite straight forward but I would recommend keeping a good hold of your textbooks as the exam has all of the different areas of Law you’ve studied, and ethical questions, all mixed in together. You could go from a Criminal question to Employment so it might be worth trying to get some practice with this approach.
SQE 2 is much more hands on. They’ve only recently signed off the format but it’s going to be acting. You’ll be in a situation with an actor who will play a client, and you will have to interview them and give advice (depending on the area of Law). However again it’s not as bad as it sounds, the markers aren’t expecting you to know absolutely everything and every case off by heart – you’re only expected to know what a day one solicitor would know without having to look up. Not that it’s going to be easy but the expectations aren’t for Partner level answers! It’s all about your understanding and application of the Law and the potential ethical situations involved.
What does it matter to me?
Because if you finish your Law (or other) degree in summer 2021 you’ll likely be going down the SQE route, so it’s good to know what’s ahead of you!
One of the changes is the way that you get work experience/training contract. With the SQE you still need to have two years’ experience, but it doesn’t have to be all in one place after you’ve finished all your exams.
The two years’ experience can be split in up to 4 different companies (however if you’re working through an agency or University this may class as only one company) and it can be done before, during or after the exams. The old way of doing training contracts will change however a lot of firms will want to make sure you’ve passed the exams before you start, at least in the early years. But that all depends on the firm. The important thing to remember is any paralegal work you start – you need to make sure you have an open and honest discussion with your interviewer as to whether or not it can count as QLE as not all paralegal roles will be counted.
What do I do now?
As much research as possible! It’s important to focus on the firms that you’re interested in as there’s a possibility that firms are going to approach this in a slightly different way.
But that’s not a bad thing, if your entire passion and love is for Family Law and the thought of having to do 4 different seats where you might not even get to sit in Family was filling you with dread, then just look for a specialized Family firm and see if they will let you qualify there. With so many options it’s important to find what works best for you, whether that’s a more traditional training contract style set up where you can move around the office or whether you want to be specialized straight away. Now that these changes have come into play you can do whichever you want (providing you find a firm that will support you!).
If you have any other questions about the SQE make sure to head on over to the SRA website