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Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) – six months to go
On 1 September 2021, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will introduce a new route to qualifying as a solicitor: the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).
The SQE consists of two sets of centralised assessments designed to assess competence for entry to the profession.
- complete both stages of assessment, SQE1 and SQE2
- complete a degree-level qualification or equivalent
- complete two years of qualifying work experience (QWE)
- satisfy the SRA’s character and suitability requirements
The SQE will require candidates to take two stages of centralised assessments:
- SQE1 will consist of two examinations of 180 questions testing 'functioning legal knowledge' through single best answer, multiple-choice questions
- SQE2 will consist of 15 to 18 exercises ('stations') which will test candidates’ legal skills, through written and oral simulations of the tasks a newly qualified solicitor might undertake in practice, across five contexts
Whilst there are no required courses which candidates must take to prepare for these assessments, many will choose to do so.
Providers are making a range of options available for this purpose, from short preparatory courses to full masters courses which will include preparation for both sets of assessments.
Qualifying work experience (QWE)
All candidates will need to complete at least two years' full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience.
QWE aims to be a more flexible approach than the current period of recognised training, commonly referred to as a 'training contract'.
Candidates will not have to complete QWE in one block directly before qualifying as a solicitor, as most candidates currently do. Instead they can complete QWE over an extended period, at up to four separate placements.
There will be no minimum length of time for a placement.
It must simply meet the requirements set out by the SRA of providing an opportunity to develop some of the competencies set out in the statement of solicitor competence.
Costs and funding
When it is introduced in September 2021, the total cost of the SQE assessments will be £3,980:
- SQE1 – £1,558
- SQE2 – £2,422
In addition to this, candidates may wish to undertake courses, or buy resources, to help them prepare for the SQE assessments.
Whilst the usual student finance applies to degree and masters courses, there's currently no funding available for freestanding SQE preparation courses, or the costs of the SQE assessments themselves.
We're lobbying government to make funding options available to those that need them, which is essential to ensure that there is no financial barrier to entry to the profession.
There will be a gradual transition from the current system to the new SQE system, which is set out in the transitional arrangements.
These arrangements give those seeking to enter the profession, educational institutions, and employers time to adjust their offering to the new system.
Anyone who falls within the transitional arrangements will have until 31 December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor under the existing routes.
Widening access to the profession
The SQE will widen the ways in which it is possible for someone to become a solicitor.
It provides a greater flexibility around what constitutes qualifying work experience, as well as the ability to independently undertake the necessary assessments.
Paralegals and other candidates who may have previously found themselves unable to qualify due to a lack of available training contracts will now have a route into the profession.
It's envisaged that a range of options for studying will also emerge and that this will enable aspiring solicitors to choose the path that best suits them.
If firms take advantage of this, there's a real opportunity to widen diversity and inclusion within the profession and positively affect social mobility.
Firms are encouraged to think as flexibly as possible when recruiting for qualifying work experience, or considering prescribing preparation courses.
It's now possible for employers to take on candidates for legal apprenticeships.
These apprenticeships result in qualification as a solicitor and have been developed to meet the SQE standard as an alternative route to the university model.
For employers there are many benefits, including access to funding from the apprenticeship levy.