One of the most common questions I am asked by SQE candidates is:
‘Should I Sign Up For The SQE LLM In Legal Practice?’
The purpose of this article is to help students understand the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) marketplace and some potential pitfalls so that they can make an informed decision about the right SQE course for them.
Your Aim Should Be To Pass the SQE At The First Attempt!
The SQE is a high stakes professional examination that candidates must pass in order to practise law as a Solicitor in England & Wales.
The SQE in itself does not result in the candidate being awarded a Diploma or Degree but is a route to qualification to practise law as a Solicitor. Practically speaking, your aim should be to pass the SQE at the first attempt to avoid the costly resit assessment fees.
Therefore, a candidate’s should select a course which increases their chances of passing SQE1 and SQE2 so they can swiftly begin their legal careers. It is not about obtaining a diploma or degree qualification!
The LLM in Legal Practice – The Backstory
If that is the case, then why are SQE providers marketing year-long masters level SQE courses (also known as the LLM in Legal Practice (SQE1 & SQE2)) which is a major financial and time commitment? This is an interesting question and the answer to it has its origins in the Legal Practice Course (LPC).
The LPC was originally a 9 month course with a Diploma in Legal Practice awarded by the institution. As the marketplace became more competitive, LPC providers with degree awarding powers began to offer candidates the option to extend their study over the summer and ‘upgrade’ their LPC Diploma to a LPC LLM. LPC providers soon began marketing LPC LLM courses and law firms signed up as they were offered a discounted masters course which represented good value for money for their large trainee solicitor cohorts. The impact of this shift meant self-funding students believed a LPC LLM would increase their chances of obtaining a training contract with law firms thereby drawing independent students back to the same LPC LLM providers.
With the LPC being phased out, legal education providers are still keen to offer lucrative masters qualification in the form of the SQE LLM in Legal Practice. This is understandable for a University provider since its degree awarding powers is their 'unique selling point' compared to SQE providers who are not Universities or don’t have a validating University partner. It is also a clever way to ‘up sell’ a qualification that is not necessarily needed to qualify as a Solicitor. Nevertheless, there are some benefits of the LLM in Legal Practice.
LLM in Legal Practice (SQE1 & SQE2) – Advantages and Disadvantages
The main advantage of the LLM in Legal Practice is a candidate should qualify for a government-backed postgraduate Master’s loan. A loan will cover the full SQE course fees and the SQE assessment cost which could total anywhere up to £20,000.
Another appeal of the LLM is to overseas candidates who feel an LLM from a UK University is a qualification that may help them in their home jurisdictions.
The main disadvantage of the LLM in Legal Practice is it is a much more expensive option than the basic SQE preparation course since it is year-long post graduate course. Furthermore, the syllabus covers more law than you need to pass the SQE with additional modules added on to reach the Masters level threshold. Based on conversations I have had with SQE students, many are struggling to cover the extra content they need to pass the LLM (but which is not required to pass the SQE) and this is distracting them from their main aim which is to successfully pass the SQE at the first attempt.
A further disadvantage of the LLM in Legal Practice is that some providers (not all) have stated that they will only award the LLM degree provided the candidate passes the SQE assessments as set by the SRA and Kaplan (the assessor). Therefore, there is a possibility a candidate could study the LLM for a full year and fail the SQE exam. Consequently, you would not be awarded the LLM even though you completed the course, until you pass the SRA’s SQE assessments. This could leave some candidates completely empty handed and is a potential issue that all SQE students should carefully look into before signing up with a provider.
It’s All About SQE1!
If you are fortunate enough to have your SQE sponsored by a law firm, they will advise you as to the best SQE preparation course to select as they are likely to have a relationship with a legal education provider that has tailored a programme to meet the firm’s requirements.
However, if you are a self-funding student, do you really want to incur up to £20,000 of student debt? Your priority should be to pass SQE1 by enrolling in a cost effective SQE1 preparation course.
Life After SQE1
Having passed SQE1, you will be in a position of strength to approach law firms and other legal organisations to secure Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). By stating you have passed SQE1, you have demonstrated your academic credentials and commitment to qualifying as a Solicitor.
QWE will give you the experience and confidence to sit SQE2, the practical legal skills assessment. You will still need to sign up for a SQE2 course to help you prepare for the structure of the SQE2 assessments, but having gained real experience in a legal environment, passing SQE2 should be much easier. Furthermore, a law firm may be willing to help you fund your SQE2 preparation and assessments.
Following the above course of action means a LLM Legal Practice is unnecessary for most self-funding candidates and other cost effective options allow students to take full advantage of the flexibility and accessibility for which the SQE was designed and introduced. By attempting SQE1 on a standalone basis, with an exam focused course, candidates should be able to pass the assessment, manage the cost of their education and avoid getting into heavy debt as they study and work their way towards becoming a Solicitor.
Sunit Tejura is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Roehampton Law School and leads the Law School’s SQE Foundations Course. 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).