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How to prepare for the SQE while working

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The new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), which comes into effect in September 2021, is now less than a year away. Replacing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC), which will be phased out, would-be lawyers and students are now turning their attentions to the finer details of the SQE.

Hot topics include what the two SQE1 and SQE2 assessments consist of, details of the Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and how to study while working. In this blog, we give you the lowdown on the two parts of the SQE, QWE and how to go about finding it, and top tips to help you balance work and study.

What are the SQE requirements?

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The SQE is a new centralised assessment for people looking to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. The base criteria to take the SQE is a degree or equivalent level qualification in any subject. You must pass SQE1 and SQE2 and complete two years of QWE and show you are of sound character and suitability to become a solicitor.

The SQE assessment is divided into two parts. SQE1 is a computer-based exam which tests your legal knowledge using multiple-choice questions – it is a rigorous system and requires practice to succeed. Once you have passed SQE1 you can move on to the second part of the assessment, SQE2, which is focused on the practical aspects of becoming a solicitor.  This part of the process allows you to practice skills such as client interviewing, advocacy, case and matter analysis, legal research and written advice and legal drafting.

One of the distinct advantages of the SQE over previous routes to qualifying is that you can earn whilst you learn if you choose a provider like BARBRI that offers part-time SQE Prep courses. Many students from all backgrounds and at different stages of their careers find this helpful in terms of spreading the cost of the preparation course and exam fees over a period that suits them. Not to mention the flexibility of the part-time course structure in fitting it in around family and other commitments.

Of course, working part-time while studying for the two assessments also allows you to build up the QWE element of the SQE.

Build your Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) hours

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Unlike the training contract system, where placements could be hard to secure, the SQE offers much more flexibility when it comes to QWE. The required two years QWE can take place with up to four different employers and can be gained in several settings within the legal sector. Experience can be paid or unpaid and could include working as a paralegal, in a student law clinic, at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or even as a legal secretary. Your work must simply be signed off by someone at your office of employment who is a qualified solicitor. Quite often, this might be the compliance officer. 

With more scope to build your two years’ experience in a variety of settings, there are many ways SQE students can find work while studying.

Firstly, make sure that your professional profiles online are up to date and contain all your qualifications and work experiences. Most legal professionals use LinkedIn so making sure you are on the network and your profile is up to date is a good start, alongside any alumni or other professional profiles you may have on other social media or other sites.

Traditionally many law firms have offered placements in the longer academic holidays in the summertime, where you can typically shadow lawyers and even get the chance to work on live cases. Look out for open days or workshops, which many firms use to select candidates for these placements and are often a good way to get your foot in the door for a longer period of work experience. If you are interested in working at a smaller, boutique firm then contacting them directly is worthwhile as their work experience opportunities are often organised on a more ad-hoc basis.

If you need something more flexible while studying part-time, some firms are even starting to offer virtual work experience programmes. To try and widen access to a diverse range of students, the programmes are designed to give you a taste of the ‘real-life’ cases law firms work on and the chance to take on some of the tasks yourself.

If you’re in a position to undertake any voluntary work on an unpaid basis, this pro bono work will also qualify towards your two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). Pro bono work can be really valuable in terms of getting hands-on experience and putting your knowledge into practice. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau partners with many legal education settings so students can deliver pro bono advice to those in need.  

There is also the opportunity to get involved in initiatives such as StreetLaw, which originated in the U.S. and now operates across the globe to link local community groups such as schools and prisons with students who can research and deliver workshops on a particular area of interest to them. Many universities also offer free legal advice clinics where students help members of the public, while guided by qualified lawyers. More and more universities are also getting involved in miscarriage of justice programmes like the Innocence Project where criminal cases are reviewed by students.

Stick to a schedule

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Whichever route you take when it comes to combining your SQE Prep course with your QWE, students that plan to balance their studies and work-life from the outset usually succeed.

Often this can be easier said than done but considering to how you will manage your time before you embark on the SQE can prove invaluable further down the line. Be clear about your timelines and what is realistic to achieve by when, consider how much flexibility any work placements or other commitments will allow you time to study each week. Think about how you learn best and how you have achieved success in your studies previously and how you can apply this to your current situation. Your mentor is an invaluable source of support and can help you with this.

Putting a manageable structure around your SQE Prep course is as important as the content itself.  Students who study with BARBI benefit from a Personal Study Plan (PSP) to help them achieve this. Powered by the unique ISAAC (Intuitive Study Assistant and Coach) engine, as you progress through the SQE preparation programme, ISAAC analyses your learning style and progress and tweaks the course materials to provide you with the most helpful material for your particular needs. 

Interaction with others to share experience, expertise and encouragement is also highly recommended when undertaking the SQE with BARBRI. As well as a one-to-one mentor to provide weekly check-ins and practical support, our students are encouraged to build relationships through workshops, study networks and other peer community activities.

For more information, contact our team today >>>

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