Apr 14, 2021

Written By David Carnes

SQE: What does it mean for international students?

Apr 14, 2021

Written By David Carnes

The SQE, or Solicitors Qualifying Exam, is a new procedure for qualifying as a solicitor that will commence in September 2021. This new system raises issues that are of special concern for international students studying in the UK, or who intend to study in the UK.

How will the SQE change the current system?

The SQE will replace both the GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) and the LPC (Legal Practice Course). Unlike the GDL and the LPC, both of which are one-year courses of full-time study, the SQE is a sit-down examination, similar in structure to the state bar exams used in the US. It consists of two parts: SQE1 and SQE2, which need not be taken together. SQE1 will focus primarily on legal knowledge, while SQE2 will focus primarily on practical skills.

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Special issues for international students

One of the ways in which this change matters for international students seeking to qualify as a solicitor under the current system is that overseas law degrees are not recognised as qualifying law degrees, even if they are earned in a common law country such as the US. This means that under the current system, no matter what type of undergraduate degree you earn, you will probably be expected to take the GDL (limited exceptions apply, however).

Qualifying to sit for the SQE

You do not even need a law degree, from overseas or the UK, to qualify to sit for the SQE - a degree in any subject, such as mathematics or philosophy, especially if English was your language of instruction, will qualify you to sit for the SQE exam, with no need to take the GDL or the LPC. You can also qualify to sit for the exam even without a degree, as long as you possess equivalent qualifications or relevant work experience as determined by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Need to prepare for the SQE?

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If you are in the midst of studying under the old system

If you are currently in the midst of studying for a qualifying law degree, the GDL or the LPC, you should know that the SRA will continue to allow students who have already begun their academic journey under the old system to qualify under the LPC system until as late as 2032. Keep in mind, however, that most City firms are likely to require new hires to have completed the SQE route by as early as 2022.

Visas: Brexit and its effect on international students from EU countries

Due to the UK’s exit from the European Union, students from EU countries will now need a student visa to study in the United Kingdom. Obtaining a student visa requires you to:

- Receive an offer of admission from an approved educational institution in the UK;

- Demonstrate proficiency in the English language;

- Show that you have sufficient financial resources to support yourself while you are present in the UK; and

- Complete a lot of paperwork.

Qualifying for a visa represents an important new obstacle for many students from EU countries.

The decision is yours to make

At this point (May 2020), you still have the option of qualifying under either the current system or the new SQE system. Consider your own personal circumstances and think them through thoroughly before you make your decision.

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