From 2021, there is likely to be a new way to qualify as a solicitor. The Solicitors Regulation 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 Examination (SQE) – will go ahead.
The SQE is due to be introduced in autumn 2021 although there will be transitional arrangements in place to begin with.
You can find out all the latest information about the SQE so far here.
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 and funding available
- the impact of the SQE on social mobility, specifically linked to costs and when a candidate should take the SQE2 examination
- the use of multiple choice questions as the basis for examination for SQE1
- the quality of qualifying work experience and its recognition
- the need for more clarity and certainty for those who will be signing off on qualifying work experience (QWE) and consideration of the SRA’s Regulations
- 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. We have 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.
- 7 November 2019 - JLD writes to the Justice (Select) Committee - the letter can be read here.
- 8 November 2019 - JLD writes to the Legal Services Board (LSB) - the letter can be read here. The JLD has since received a response from the LSB and intends to meet with them in early 2020 to discuss further.
- 8 November 2019 - JLD writes to the Welsh Language Commissioner (WLC) - the letter can be read here. The JLD have since spoken with the WLC and understands that the SRA are engaging with key stakeholders in relation to the Welsh qualification requirements. The JLD intends to follow up further with the WLC in early 2020.
- 26 November 2019 - the Law Society and the JLD write a second joint letter to the SRA repeating the outstanding concerns and request as follows:
- ensuring that the SQE encourages a more accessible, open and diverse profession
- to provide a transparent process for the development of the SQE assessments, particularly in relation to disability and ethnicity
- a call for the SRA to join the Law Society in their request of government for loans to be made available for those seeking to sit the SQE
- a request for the SRA to conduct further risk assessments before making a further application to the LSB as well as a fully independent equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) risk assessment before the introduction of the SQE in Autumn 2021
- the need for more clarity and certainty for those who will be signing off on QWE and consideration of the SRA’s regulations
- further consideration of the timing of the SQE Part 2 and whether this should be after a candidate’s qualifying work experience, in order for it to be a final test of a candidate’s ability to be certified as a qualified solicitor of England and Wales
- the development of an SQE timetable to aid the profession in preparing for the sweeping changes brought in by the SQE
- further engagement with key stakeholders on offering the SQE in the Welsh language
The JLD and the Law Society have since received a response to this letter and are arranging a number of meetings in the first half of 2020 to discuss these concerns, prior to the SRA’s expected final application to the LSB.
- 5 September 2019 - following release of the SQE pilot results, the Law Society and the JLD write a joint letter to the SRA outlining the outstanding concerns. To summarise, the concerns relate to:
- inadequate EDI risk assessment(s) to explore the potential risks and benefits of the SQE to EDI in the profession
- a lack of clarity as to how the qualifying work experience element of the SQE will work and the concern that this element of SQE is intended to be unregulated
- the impact of removing the practical legal skills assessment from SQE part 1 and the reliance on multiple-choice questions to assess functioning legal knowledge
- the impact of the removal of the requirement for a qualifying law degree or a graduate diploma in law
- the lack of transparency surrounding the SQE and the failure by the SRA to publish the raw data from the first pilot.
The Law Society has also called upon the government for loans to be made available for those seeking to sit the SQE and has sought the SRA’s support of this.
The JLD is pleased that the Law Society is considering ways to bridge the funding gap so that aspiring solicitors from all backgrounds have the opportunity to access the profession.
- 27 September - the SRA respond to the joint JLD and Law Society letter addressing some of the concerns.
- 21 June 2019 - JLD writes to the Justice Select Committee – the letter can be read here.
- 8 November 2018 - the SRA announce 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 to £4,500. Further information can be found on the SRA website.
- 1 August 2018 - the SRA announce 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.
- 27 March 2018 - the LSB approve the SRA’s 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”.
JLD response to the SQE
To date there have been four SRA consultations on the SQE proposals and the JLD has responded to each of them as follows:
- Looking to the future: Phase two of the Handbook reforms (December 2017) - transitional arrangements
- A new route to qualification: New regulations (July 2017)
- A new route to qualification: The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (January 2017)
- Training for tomorrow: Assessing competence (March 2016)
The JLD also responded to a consultation regarding the Qualifying Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) and provided answers that considered the SQE. The JLD response can be viewed here.
Press coverage of the SQE
Download a list of articles covering the SQE in the press here
Other useful links
- SRA: Solicitors Qualifying Examination
- SRA: SQE resources for aspiring solicitors
- SRA collection of responses to the second consultation
- SRA collection of responses to the initial consultation
- The Law Society overview of the SQE
What can you do?
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.
You can also join the SRA’s SQE LinkedIn group and participate in the group discussion about the development of the SQE.
Junior Lawyers Division