Solicitors Qualifying Exam – What We Know So Far…
The eagerly awaited Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) has hit a speed bump following the results of the first pilot stage which found the skills assessment to be insufficient in meeting the key targets for licensing and therefore not viable in its current form.
Since the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced plans to change the traditional Legal Practice Course (LPC) route to become a solicitor, there has been speculation over how this will affect future students and law firms alike. The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), which is to be implemented from Autumn 2021 (at the earliest), is a change that the SRA believe will improve standards and consistency in testing.
SRA Chief Executive, Paul Philip said:
“It will give the profession, lawyers and the public confidence that all aspiring solicitors have to meet the same high standards at the point of entry.”
The changes will affect anyone who starts a law degree from 2021, with current students able to decide whether to complete the LPC (until 2032) or the SQE.
The current system requires a qualifying law degree or a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), completion of the LPC followed by applications to law firms to complete a 2-year training contract, which is notoriously competitive. After the training contract the student must then apply to the SRA to be admitted as a solicitor.
The SQE, however, does not require a qualifying law degree! Any person with an undergraduate degree can take the SQE, however, due to the contents of stage 1 of the SQE, a law degree would be beneficial. There is also a more flexible alternative to the training contract, which are limited in number and are not guaranteed on completion of the LPC.
The SQE route allows for students to complete qualifying work experience before, during or after the course completion; allowing for the work experience to be gained from up to four institutions. The SRA believe this will improve access to the profession, in particular for those who have to work and study at the same time.
One of the main aims for this change in assessment is the flexibility of the SQE with non-law graduates able to progress into legal careers with fewer barriers to entry. This will be beneficial for both students and law firms, who will have more choice in selecting the ideal candidates for their firm.
The new format will comprise of 2 stages:
Stage 1 – will access legal knowledge through multiple choice papers, in a similar topic coverage to the GDL.
Stage 2 – will cover the legal skills aspect, such as interviewing and drafting.
One of the big questions that currently looms over the SQE is the affordability. The cost of the exam alone is high and could result in students struggling to get funding. The SQE is likely to cost between £3000 and £4500, around £7000 cheaper than the LPC. However, it is not currently known how much the SQE preparation course will cost.
Although this route is thought to cost less than the current LPC fees, the course providers will ultimately set the fees. The LPC currently has the option of a Masters, which allows students to get postgraduate funding that covers most, if not all, of the course fees. It is unknown what funding may be available for the SQE.
On the 1st of August 2019, the SRA released the results of the SQE 1 pilot assessments. The results were varied, with an average mark of 50% for the legal knowledge assessment and with an average of 65% for the skills assessment.
The report found that that the 3 Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) papers should be changed to 2 longer MCQ papers to reach the targets for reliability and accuracy required for licensing. The skills assessment was found to be insufficient in meeting the key targets for licensing and therefore not viable in its current form. The SRA will be seeking suitable alternative assessments to meet the targets required.
The pilot for stage 2 are due to be completed by the end of 2019. The results of which will be highly anticipated by law firms and course providers alike.