The SQE has replaced the GDL and LPC, OMG! But, don't fear: here's a quick guide.
How will the SQE work?
Under the new system you'll need to do just four things to qualify:
- Hold a degree (in any subject) or equivalent qualification.
- Pass stages 1 and 2 of the SQE: the first focuses on legal knowledge and the second on practical legal skills.
- Complete 24 months of legal work experience (not necessarily with a single employer).
- Meet the SRA's character and suitability requirements.
That's it – no law degree, no GDL, no LPC, and no training contract!
You can sit SQE1 without a degree, but, before you decide to spend your uni fund on the SQE exams thinking you’ve found a shortcut to a great career, you will need to have completed a degree (in any subject) or equivalent in order to qualify as a solicitor[NV1] .
There are a variety of options for the SQE1 preparatory courses. BARBRI, for example, offers 10, 20 and 40-week courses. Which option is best will depend on a variety of factors such as whether you’re able to commit to studying full time, or part time, whether your degree was in law and so on.
The large law firms we spoke to said they had no plans to get rid of or alter their formal traineeship.
As well as abolishing the GDL and LPC, the SQE is taking the radical step of abolishing the requirement to do a formal training contract. However, a traineeship is still one way of getting the required work experience you'll need, and the large law firms we spoke to said they had no plans to get rid of or alter their formal traineeship. There are other ways you can gain the requisite 24 months’ work experience though. Here are the four ways:
- a training contract
- as an apprentice or paralegal
- at a student law clinic
- through a sandwich placement
The requisite work experience can be completed with up to four different employers (as long as you spend at least six months with each). Some of this work experience can even be acquired before you sit SQE1. So, one big thing to be aware of if you're going down the new route is that legal work experience you gain casually – as a paralegal or in your student law clinic – may count towards the work experience you need to do to qualify as a lawyer.
We say may, as firms with established training contracts may not want to shorten your traineeship with them just because you've already done a year's work experience. But for those seeking to work in high-street, small or general-practice firms, the option of qualifying as a solicitor after doing legal work experience with different employers could become very real. Furthermore, any qualified solicitor or a firm's compliance officer (who deals with overall regulation by the SRA) can sign off on a trainee's period of work experience.
The SQE: how it works
What's on the exam?
Despite its name, SQE is not actually a single exam, but a series of exams taken in two stages, SQE1 and SQE2, totalling 35 hours of assessment (that's a lot!). The SRA has said there's some flexibility on when you can take each stage. As per our diagram, one way of doing it is to do SQE1 before you start your two-year period of work experience and SQE2 at or towards the end of that period. However, as vice president of strategy and marketing at BARBRI, Robert Dudley notes a significant number of its students “went straight on to do SQE2” after their SQE1.
SQE1 is two days of exams, with two papers on each day. One in the morning one in the afternoon. Each paper is 2h33m, comprising of 90 multiple choice questions per paper, for a grand total of 360 questions. Called 'functioning legal knowledge assessments' (FLKs) the SRA, FLK 1 tests: Business Law and Practice; Dispute Resolution; Contract; Tort; Legal System of England and Wales; Constitutional and Administrative Law and EU Law and Legal Services. FLK2 tests: Property Practice; Wills and the Administration of Estates; Solicitors Accounts; Land Law; Trusts; Criminal Law and Practice.
The SQE1 uses 'computer-based testing' single-best-answer multiple-choice questions, with ethical questions sprinkled throughout.
Once you've passed SQE1 the clock starts ticking and you have six years to gain the necessary two years' work experience and pass SQE2 before the exam loses its validity.
SQE2 focuses on six practical skills, which are tested via four oral exercises and 12 written tests:
“Under the new system you could theoretically go straight from, say, a geography degree onto a training contract.”
Each module is scored but the SQE as a whole is marked pass or fail. For both SQE1 and SQE2 there are two assessment moments throughout the year – though, it is expected this will increase as demand increases.
One thing you'll notice is that SQE1 does not contain any electives, unlike the GDL and LPC. But, as is presently the case, you can be sure that some firms will want their future trainees to have specialist legal knowledge of certain areas relevant to them, like immigration, finance, M&A or intellectual property. One law school source speculated that firms may want to provide this training in house, but extra training on areas outside SQE1 is likely to be available from law schools for those wanting it off their own bat. A City law firm told us in stark terms that they'd certainly want incoming trainees to have studied extra electives relevant to them: “Under the new system you could theoretically go straight from, say, a geography degree onto a training contract, but if someone did that they'd be of no value to a firm whatsoever!”
What will it cost?
A key reason the SRA gave in 2017 for changing the system of qualification is to make the route into the profession cheaper. The total for both exams in 2022 was of £4,115. That breaks down to £1,622 for SQE1 and £2,493 for SQE2.
“If you don't get through the cheaper SQE1 you can give up and not incur the cost of SQE2.”
This is significantly lower than those of the GDL and LPC. But you need to bear in mind that this is without the preparatory courses for both SQE1 and SQE2 that are provided by law schools other than Kaplan.