How will the SQE affect me?
Under the current system, a student can qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales in one of two ways:
1) Complete a qualifying law degree (LLB), the Legal Practice Course (LPC), and a two-year period of recognised training known as a training contract; or
2) Complete any degree subject followed by the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), the LPC, and then a training contract.
However, these routes to qualification will change in September 2021 with the introduction of the new Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE).
The SQE is a centralised series of examinations taken in two stages that are intended to ensure consistent, high standards for qualifying solicitors. The SQE is expected to eventually take the place of the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC). According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the introduction of the SQE will require that all trained solicitors sit for the same qualifying exam, helping to ensure consistency and quiet the notion that one route to qualification is superior to the others. The SRA also expects the SQE to make the legal profession more accessible to students by potentially lowering the cost of study.
The SQE will mean very different things for different people, depending on where they are in their legal careers. Here is how the following groups will be affected by the SQE:
For non-law graduates, qualifying under the new system will likely involve completing the following:
- A three-year non-law degree
- An SQE1 preparation course
- SQE stage 1 and 2
- Two years of qualifying legal work experience
- Satisfy the SRA's suitability and character requirements
Following the SQE procedure, it will take apprentices and non-law graduates between five and seven years to qualify as solicitors.
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LLB, GDL and LPC Students
Anyone who commences a law degree, GDL, or LPC prior to September 2021 will have until 2032 to qualify through the old system, although they may choose to qualify through SQE if they prefer. However, City firms are expected to require all candidates to take the SQE from 2022 on because they will be unwilling to run two separate qualification systems concurrently. Under the SQE procedure, law graduates will qualify as solicitors in five to six years.
What about those who are already qualified?
Although the SQE will not directly affect solicitors who have been previously qualified through the prior system, it will affect law firms and the legal market in general, although law firms that currently sponsor the GDL and LPC are expected to keep on paying for potential trainees to sit for the SQE1 and SQE2 and complete the obligatory preparation.
Recent predictions indicate that the SQE will cost between £3,000 and £4,500. Under the current system, law students pay fees of around £7,250 to £10,000 for a GDL, £8,500 to £14,000 for the LPC, and £14,250 to £17,350 for the BPTC, depending upon the provider and location.
Despite the amount of confusion and concern currently surrounding the SQE, one thing is certain: there will no longer be just one route into the legal profession. Both law and non-law students will be able to enter the profession on equal standing, although the route they take might be very different.