The SQE is the new route to qualification as a Solicitor for all those enrolling on a law degree or law conversion course from 1 September 2021.
It is a radical departure from the Legal Practice Course (‘LPC’) though the LPC continues to be a route to qualification for those students who enrolled on a law degree or conversion course before that key date. Therefore, the LPC route remains an option for current law students and those who have graduated in previous years.
The SQE is a national ‘super exam’ that involves passing a new style of assessment. It is split into two stages:
SQE 1 – A two day mixed subject multiple choice exam (360 questions) that tests the core principles of legal knowledge of a newly qualified lawyer; and
SQE 2 – A set of 16 oral and written practical assessments that tests the legal skills of a new qualified lawyer.
The SQE assessments differ from the LPC assessment in a number of ways:
The assessment methodology for the testing of functioning legal knowledge (SQE1) is the use of single best answer multiple choice questions, as opposed to the traditional problem and essay questions that students are accustomed to from undergraduate study;
The testing of practical legal skills (SQE 2) is by the use of Objective Structured Clinical Exams which involves the use of trained actors in a controlled environment to replicate a real life scenario, all examined under the watchful eyes of a Kaplan assessor who is a qualified solicitor;
The assessment process for SQE 1 and SQE 2 is centralised and administered by Kaplan. Therefore, the assessment setting and marking has been taken out of the hands of local and national providers and follows the syllabus set by the SRA on their SQE website. Many new and existing providers are selling a menu of SQE courses (to prepare students for SQE 1 and/or SQE 2) to suit individual student needs ranging in price from £950 to £16,000. In comparison, the LPC on average costs around £12,000 (LPC prices vary according to provider and region).
In addition to SQE provider costs, a student must register and pay Kaplan for the privilege to sit the SQE. SQE 1 costs £1622 and SQE 2 costs £2493. Should a student fail an assessment, the fee must be paid again to resit the assessment with a maximum of three attempts allowed.
SQE or LPC?
This will largely depend on whether you have an offer of training from a law firm or not. In these circumstances, the firm will guide you if they would like you to do the SQE or LPC, though the feedback we are hearing is that most firms will continue with the LPC route until 2024 as the SQE assessments are relatively new with no feedback on the pass rate to be announced until January 2022.
As for the students who do not have a training contract offer, the appeal of the SQE route is the Qualifying Work Experience (‘QWE’) criteria is more flexible that the 2 year fixed contract requirements that have so often proved to be a block to aspiring lawyers. The rules for QWE can be found at (https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/events/on-demand-events/qwe-what-aspiring-solicitors-need-to-know/) but in essence it allows a young lawyer to complete their practical training at up to 4 different organisations involved in the provision of legal services (such as a Law Clinic, Law Firm or In House Legal Department). In doing so, the SRA hopes that this will open up the route to qualification to lawyers which have been held back by the lack of training contract opportunities. Furthermore, students can start to build their record of QWE even before they have passed SQE 1 and SQE 2.
The first SQE 1 assessments were first held in November 2021 with results announced on 24 January 2022. The pass rate was a poor 53% and as a result many providers have not published their individual pass rates for their courses. Therefore, it worth asking the providers for their specific pass rate and not be taken in by general assurances!
The SQE is a new assessment and should not be underestimated, especially during these early days as everyone is trying to learn and adapt to the new testing regime. Remember the LPC is tried and tested, with the provider in control of the syllabus and assessments, therefore, for many students this may be the better option unless the appeal of QWE is too strong to resist.
Sunit Tejura is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Roehampton Law School and is leading the Law School’s response to the SQE. Prior to joining Roehampton University he worked at Kaplan for seven years teaching on their Legal Practice Course, Graduate Diploma in Law and writing multiple choice questions for the Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme (the precursor to the SQE). Sunit is a qualified Solicitor (England and Wales) and Attorney at Law (New York).