SQE – All you need to know

WHAT

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has reformed solicitor qualification in England and Wales by introducing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) which will come into existence in Autumn 2021. The SQE will consist of two sets of exams, SQE 1 & 2, and it will replace the current 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 will 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 will work. 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 should take place on 8 and 11 November 2021 (assessment bookings are opening in July 2021) and for the SQE2 assessments will take 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 will consist of:

SQE1: testing functioning legal knowledge across 13 areas of law and will consist 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 wll last two hours and 33 minutes.

SQE2: testing legal skills across several practice areas and will consist of both oral and written assessments delivered through 16 practical exercises. Assessments will 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 will 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.

Illustration of SQE process

WHERE

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

COST/FEES

The SRA estimated a cost of £3,980 for both SQE assessments. The fee will cover the following:

  • SQE1 – with a fee of £1,558 for the two examinations consisting of 180 questions each, testing functioning legal knowledge.
  • SQE2 – with a fee of £2,422 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.

SQE Preparation

Although the SRA has not provided 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 month. 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 as further information on SQE assessments are released but in the meantime here are a couple to get you started.

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!

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.

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

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/

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