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Junior Lawyers Division

Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE)

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From 2020 there is likely to be a new way to qualify as a solicitor.

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.

See the JLD’s FAQs on the SQE.

Why is SQE being introduced?

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.

What is the SQE?

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 assessment

The new form of assessment will involve candidates taking two stages of examination, SQE1 and SQE2.

  • SQE1 will test legal knowledge and will be an academic exam, mainly multiple choice, to be taken around the time of graduating from a degree or equivalent. Under the SRA’s current proposals, this does not have to be a law degree or equivalent.
  • SQE2 will test issues such as client interviewing and providing advice - this will be a practical skills examination to be taken, most likely, after two years of work experience has been completed.

Work experience

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.

Qualified in another jurisdiction

For those lawyers who have qualified in other jurisdictions and looking to practice here, they will need to:

  • Hold a legal professional qualification which confers rights to practise in England or Wales or in an overseas jurisdiction recognised by the SRA
  • Demonstrate you have the competences set out in the Statement of Solicitor Competence, and the knowledge of English and Welsh law set out in the Statement of Legal Knowledge either on the basis of the principles set out below and/or through successful completion of the SQE
  • Have a degree or qualifications or experience which the SRA is satisfied are equivalent to a degree
  • Satisfy the SRA’s character and suitability requirements.

Implementation

The SQE is due to be introduced in 2020 although there will be transitional arrangements in place.

The JLD’s views on the SQE

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:

  • The limited timetable to efficiently introduce SQE
  • The lack of information as to how much the SQE will cost
  • The impact of the SQE on social mobility, specifically linked to costs
  • The use of multiple choice questions as the basis for examination for SQE1
  • The quality of qualifying work experience and its recognition
  • The removal of the requirement to have experience of both contentious and non-contentious work
  • The lack of clarity relating to qualification requirements for Wales given the nuances of certain laws in Wales.

What has the JLD been doing in response to these proposals?

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 potential costs of the new process
  • How it is going to affect law firms’ decisions to employ candidates and provide their training
  • The final form of the examinations

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.

JLD response to the SQE

To date there have been three formal consultations on the SQE proposals and the JLD has responded to each of them as follows:

Press coverage of the SQE

Other useful links

Contact us

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. See the JLD’s FAQs on the SQE.

In the meantime, you are welcome to email us with your views and comments at juniorlawyers@lawsociety.org.uk.

Also, please follow us on Twitter @juniorlawyers or find us on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Junior Lawyers Division
August 2017

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About the Junior Lawyers Division

Your Junior Lawyers Division is dedicated to meeting the needs of all LPC students, LPC graduates (including those working as paralegals), trainee solicitors, and solicitors with up to five years post qualification experience.

See our 2016/17 Engagement Programme.