All You Need To Know: SQE Qualifying Work Experience

WHAT

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has reformed solicitor qualification in England and Wales by introducing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) which came into existence in Autumn 2021. The SQE consists of two sets of exams, SQE 1 & 2, and it replaced the traditional qualification route, comprised of the qualifying law degree or GDL, LPC and Period of Recognised Training (‘the training contract’).

With the new SQE route, aspiring solicitors need to complete the two SQE assessments along with two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE), within a six-year period, in order to qualify as solicitors. QWE can be undertaken before, during and/or after completing SQE1 and SQE2. Just before qualification, you will also need to pass the SRA character and suitability requirements.

Since Accutrainee launched in 2012, our trainees have been seconded to up to 4 different firms and/or in-house legal teams during their two years training contracts. The way we have operated since launch is essentially how the ‘new’ QWE works. Therefore, no one has anywhere near the same level of expertise and knowledge as us in training, nurturing and mentoring trainees in this way of qualification.

Amongst all this change and confusion, Accutrainee will be Your Partner in Law as the standout experts in solicitor qualification. We will continue to offer diverse, unique and challenging QWE comprising high quality work and responsibility through a variety of secondments opportunities. This will ensure our trainees enter the profession not only because they have passed the requisite exams but because they have had opportunities to develop the necessary skills and competencies demanded of 21st Century lawyers.

WHEN

The SQE came into effect on 1 September 2021.

The first examination for the SQE1 took place on 8 and 11 November 2021 and the SQE2 assessments took place in April 2022. The SRA intends to run a dual process for qualification until the end of 2032 during which time it will be possible to qualify under either the new SQE route or the current training contract route. Effectively, anyone who started or enrolled on a qualifying law degree, law conversion or LPC before 1st September 2021 will be able to choose to qualify either through the existing route or the SQE. Otherwise, they will have to qualify via the SQE route.

WHY

The purpose of the SQE is to ensure consistency of standards at the point of qualification regardless of the route taken. This will be achieved by providing a single, centralised assessment which everyone will have to pass in order to qualify as a solicitor in England & Wales. According to the SRA, this new pathway to qualification is a response to the changing legal services market and it aims to promote diversity and remove barriers.

HOW – Structure of SQE

The SRA nominated Kaplan as the sole and independent assessor that will deliver the SQE exams.

The SRA has confirmed that the final structure of the SQE consists of:

SQE1: testing functioning legal knowledge across 13 areas of law and consists of two multiple choice examinations, each with 180 questions. This test will assess candidates’ knowledge of the law and their ability to apply that knowledge to real-life situations. Each exam lasts two hours and 33 minutes.

SQE2: testing legal skills across several practice areas and consists of both oral and written assessments delivered through 16 practical exercises. Assessments cover legal research, writing, drafting, advocacy, client interviewing and case and matter analysis. The skills will be assessed in the context of several legal practice areas. The SQE2 assessments run across several days.

You must pass SQE1 before you can sit SQE2 and have a maximum of three attempts to pass each SQE1 or SQE2 exams in a six-year period.

We’ve set out below just one possible route you may wish to take when embarking on the SQE.

An illustration of the SQE Training experience

WHERE

The SQE1 and the written elements of SQE2 are available to sit in England and Wales, as well as some international locations. The assessments for the SQE1 are held at Pearson VUE national test centres. For the SQE2 there is a more limited choice of centres.

COST/FEES

The SRA has set out a cost of £4,564 for both SQE assessments. The fee covers the following:

  • SQE1 – with a fee of £1,798 (£899 for FLK1 and £899 for FLK2) for the two examinations consisting of 180 questions each, testing functioning legal knowledge.
  • SQE2 – with a fee of £2,766 for the written and oral tasks testing both practical legal knowledge and skills.

The figures above do not include retakes or SQE preparation courses that some candidates will take before attempting the exams. Also, SQE assessment fees are subject to change as they are periodically reviewed by the SRA.

SQE Preparation

Although the SRA does not provide specific guidelines on this matter, it is very likely candidates will need to undertake SQE preparation courses in order to pass the exams. There is a large and varied range of providers offering SQE Prep course, so much so that it’s already getting pretty hard to decipher the different types and styles of course on offer, not to mention which offer good value for money. Accutrainee will be partnering with the best legal education providers and want to support you in ensuring you can select the best SQE preparation courses available to suit your individual needs. More details will follow but in the meantime here are a couple to get you started.

The logo for QLTchool where you can study to achieve the SQE qualification and become a solicitor.

No one knows SQE2 skills assessments like these guys. As the SQE exam is substantially modelled on the QLTS, the phased-out fast track route for foreign lawyers to qualify as solicitors of England and Wales, there is a clear advantage in preparing for the SQE with an established and trusted QLTS provider. QLTS School’s SQE preparation courses are based on professionally written textbooks, video lessons, thousands of practice questions and mock exams, extensive tutor support and other online resources. The courses are flexible so you can commence preparation anytime, all around the year. Total flexibility!

The logo for the college of legal practice where they provide SQE training.

Headed up by Giles Proctor, one of the leading figures in legal education, The College of Legal Practice offers standalone accredited SQE1 and SQE2 preparation courses and a full LLM in Legal Practice that includes SQE preparation. Courses are highly flexible and available full-time or part-time. Expert practitioners will guide you with one-to-one personal supervision through their one-of-a-kind online platform.

The College offers Law School level training, quality assured as a higher-education provider in England. It is backed by 50 years’ experience of postgraduate legal training through their not-for-profit parent company, The College of Law in Australia, who support thousands of lawyers to qualify every year.

Barbri logo where you can undergo SQE training.

BARBRI is a legal educator specialising in innovative technology to help law students and lawyers succeed in achieving their legal qualification. Their unique courses can prepare you for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) through to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales, as well as offering dual-qualification opportunities to become an attorney in New York or California. BARBRI has maintained the trust of legal students for over 50 years, helping more than 1.3 million law students and lawyers succeed in legal exams across the globe.

Accutrainee & SQE

You only have to talk to someone who’s been involved in legal innovation over the last ten years to know that effecting change in the legal industry is challenging. It is a profession that by its very nature is risk adverse, slow to adopt change and has perfectionist tendencies. The SQE will certainly bring many challenges but it will also undoubtedly create exciting opportunities for significant improvements and innovation in the way we prepare and shape our future lawyers with genuine focus on service delivery, client needs and expectations.

Accutrainee will be focused on cutting through the confusion and giving our clients and candidates the best experience when it comes to hiring and training junior legal talent. As a company we are already fully committed to diversity and will continue to develop a consistent and inclusive experience for our lawyers.

If you want further information, you can also listen to the More from Law podcast that featured Accutrainee’s CEO and founder Susan Cooper as the guest in this insightful 30-minute episode.

Questions about the impact of the SQE?

SQE FAQs

A: Yes, if you have started or enrolled on to a qualifying law degree and/or LPC before September 2021 you can still qualify through the training contract route. You can do this until 2032.

A: You can already apply to Accutrainee for both paralegal roles and training contract opportunities so just let us know your preference. If the opportunities we are looking to put you forward for will provide suitable experience and learning opportunities we will count it as either part of your training contract or QWE depending on the route you are taking. You will be able to sit SQE1 and 2 while working with us or in-between secondments to eventually qualify as a solicitor.

A: Yes, you can apply but you will only be eligible for non-QWE (paralegal roles). The quality of our trainees’ experience is really important to us and so we feel it will be difficult to further the skills needed to qualify as a solicitor without at least some understanding of law under your belt.

Yes, to be honest, many of our clients will want to see at least some form of legal learning having been completed.

A: Accutrainee is developing a competency platform to help those we work with gauge when is the right time to sit SQE 2 as it won’t be the same for everyone.  We feel that in most cases SQE 2 should be taken after at least 12 months of QWE.

A: We will be partnering with the best legal education providers so that we can guide you in selecting the best SQE-preparation courses available. More details will follow as soon as further information on SQE assessments is released.

Accutrainee does not currently cover the cost of the SQE for its trainees. We do, however, partner with some of the best educational institutions which offer up to 20% discounts for SQE preparation courses to our trainee solicitors. Discounts for SQE prep courses are also available to all candidates who are registered to Pathways.

Useful links

– LPC or SQE decision tree: https://www.sra.org.uk/students/sqe/lpc-sqe-decision-tree/
– SRA SQE Update: https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/sqe-update/
– More information on SQE final design: https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/policy/sqe/sqe-final-design/