From 2021 there is likely to be a new way to qualify as a solicitor. Find out what we know so far …
The Solicitor Regulatory Authority’s (SRA) proposed reboot of the solicitor qualification system has gained a lot of media coverage, both positive and negative, with the outcome of it all being that it - the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) - will go ahead.
On 27 March 2018, the Legal Services Board (LSB) approved the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) application to introduce a centralised ‘super-exam’ for would be solicitors. The LSB say that its approval provides the ‘framework upon which the SRA can seek to introduce new requirements for anyone wishing to qualify as a solicitor’.
On 1 August 2018 the SRA announced that they have appointed Kaplan as the assessment organisation to develop and run the SQE on behalf of the SRA. Kaplan will not, however, provide training for the SQE. They have been appointed for a period of eight years from the introduction of the SQE. Further information can be found on the SRA website.
On 8 November 2018 the SRA announced that the SQE will be introduced in autumn 2021 (the previous launch date was 2020) with the candidate fee likely to range between £3,000 - £4,500. Further information can be found on the SRA website.
Under the current training regime, there are broadly three routes to qualify as a solicitor:
The SRA has said there is a need to ensure that all qualifying solicitors are of the same standard, regardless of the route they’ve taken. The SRA believes that under the current arrangements, certain new pathways may be compared unfavourably to the traditional university route. The SQE is intended to dispel such notions, as passing it will enable each qualifier to demonstrate they are all of the same standard.
There is also an argument that the traditional route varies between universities and training contract providers, meaning that some are viewed more favourably i.e. studying at Oxford, or training at a magic circle firm.
Despite its name, the SQE is more than just a new form of examination. It is a complete overhaul of the way in which candidates will qualify as solicitors. Some of the key changes that are being proposed include the degree requirements needed, the exams that are to be taken, the number of years it will take and the amount of work experience to be completed. There will also be changes to the way in which foreign qualified lawyers will be able to practice in England and Wales.
The details are still being worked on and consultations remain open, but a number of the major points have already been decided upon by the SRA.
The new form of assessment will involve candidates taking two stages of examination, SQE1 and SQE2.
As mentioned above, candidates will have to undertake a minimum of two years of legal work experience, which cannot comprise of any more than four separate placements within that two year period.
For those lawyers who have qualified in other jurisdictions and looking to practice here, they will need to:
The SQE is due to be introduced in 2021 although there will be transitional arrangements in place.
The introduction of the SQE is going to have a significant impact on a large proportion of our members (and future members) and one of the most important issues that we have encountered with in recent years.
The JLD is supportive, in theory, of a consistent centralised standard and recognises that there are limitations with the current system of education and training.
However, there are a number of issues that the JLD has concerns over, including:
Having engaged with our national committee of representatives from across the country and listened to our members, the JLD has provided responses to each of the SRA’s consultations (links to these responses can be found below.) The JLD has also met, on numerous occasions, with various representatives of the SRA to raise our concerns and discuss, constructively, how to move forward.
The JLD has canvassed the views of its members at meetings, training and networking events, and via its website. The common view amongst junior lawyers is that we still have not been provided with adequate information as to how the new process of qualifying is going to look. There is concern about:
The JLD has taken forward the views of its members and campaigned to persuade the SRA for more information. The JLD has ensured it has raised the specific concerns listed above, but the key issue remains that without full information on how the SQE is going to look, there is only so much that can be said in response to the SRA’s consultations.
To date there have been four SRA consultations on the SQE proposals and the JLD has responded to each of them as follows:
Although the SRA has reached a decision about the future of SQE the JLD will continue to campaign on this issue and to respond to further consultations as to how it will look.
You are welcome to email us with your views and comments.
Join the SRA’s SQE LinkedIn group and participate in the group discussion about the development of the SQE.
Junior Lawyers Division