The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is set to change the face of the legal profession. When it’s officially introduced in September 2021, it will ensure that standards are both high and consistent amongst all would-be solicitors. Levelling out the playing field, the SQE will make the path to a law career much clearer for many. It will kick open the doors to greater flexibility and make it possible for a wider and more diverse talent pool to enter the legal profession.
Yet with change comes uncertainty, and with mere months now until the SQE’s arrival, many are asking what will the examinations be like? How difficult will it be? How can I be prepared?
The path to legal qualification
Studying to become a lawyer has always been a lengthy pursuit, requiring years of toil, study and a commitment to both academic rigour and ongoing professional development. Law is a vocation – and attaining the right to practice it demands dedication and focus.
The SQE looks set to reshape how legal professionals qualify and how non-law graduates can further their career progression in England and Wales. Traditionally, the path has been clearly defined – achieve at least three A levels with high grades, secure an undergraduate degree, pass the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and finally train and finish the Professional Skills Course (PSC). It’s a long road, but a tried-and-tested one too for many solicitors practising today.
The new route to legal qualification is the SQE, an entirely different way of testing. The SQE’s introduction sees past courses such as the LPC and PSC being phased out and replaced by what some are now calling the ‘super exam’.
SQE: A new way of testing solicitors’ skills
Without question, the SQE is a big change for the legal profession – perhaps the biggest that has been witnessed in decades. Yet it need not be daunting. Like anything else, success in the SQE will come down to one simple word: preparation.
Understanding what’s involved with the SQE is the crucial first step towards embarking on the road to success – and beginning your exciting new career pathway practising law.
The first key difference between the current qualification model and the SQE is the route to entry. The base criteria for the SQE is a degree or equivalent level qualification in any subject, combined with two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE). Candidates will also be expected to demonstrate the necessary competency requirements to practice law. These include ethics, professionalism and judgment; working with others; technical legal practice, and managing yourself and your workload.
Two exams, one qualification
The new SQE will be formed of two parts – SQE1 and SQE2 – both of which must be passed, alongside completing the qualifying work experience, for a candidate to be deemed suitable and competent to become a solicitor in England and Wales.
SQE1 is a computer-based exam. It is designed to test functioning legal knowledge by way of multiple-choice questions. This is far more challenging than it may sound. Excelling with multiple-choice exams is a very specific skill that requires both practice and expertise.
The SQE1 assessment will consist of 180 multiple-choice questions, which will require candidates to demonstrate their knowledge of the law, its rules and principles, and show the competence required to become a newly qualified solicitor.
It will cover a wide range of legal areas, including business law and practice; contract; tort; constitutional and administrative law; property practice; land law; trusts; solicitors’ accounts and much more. Candidates will be required to demonstrate their professional ethics and ability to act honestly and with integrity throughout the examination process.
The SQE2 assessment is a two-part examination process, comprising oral and written assessments. Oral skills will be tested through both client interviews and advocacy, while written skills will be judged through case and matter analysis, legal research, legal writing and legal drafting.
The oral element of SQE2 includes four oral legal skills assessments, taking place over two half days. The written aspect covers 12 legal skills assessments, taking place over three half days. The interviewing exercises are marked by an assessor – playing the role of the client – and these will be marked based on skills only. All other aspects of the assessment will be marked by a solicitor. The candidate’s skills and application of the law will be assessed here.
Does SQE make it easier to qualify as a lawyer?
The SQE looks set to provide a clear pathway to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales. While candidates must still hold an undergraduate degree or equivalent experience, a law degree will no longer be a formal requirement. Although the strong grounding in legal knowledge that a law degree provides will remain advantageous.
The new centralised route to qualification will serve as the foundational entry point for a career in law underpinned by valuable qualifying work experience, success in SQE1 and SQE2 will demonstrate that candidates have the necessaryacumen and aptitude to become practising solicitors.
The breadth of topics covered across what some in the industry are calling a ‘super exam’ means that all successful candidates will have proven their competence and understanding of a broad range of legal areas. The SQE’s flexibility affords both law and non-law students the same equal opportunity to work hard and enter the profession, with dedicated training providers such as BARBRI aiming to help make a career in law more accessible than ever before.
Preparing to succeed
The SQE is a significant shift for the UK’s legal industry. That’s without question. Yet for would-be solicitors in England and Wales, there is no need for this new approach to qualification to be daunting. There is ample time to fully prepare and be ready for what lies ahead.
Specialist SQE Prep courses are now available in advance of the inaugural SQE1 assessment in November 2021. BARBRI SQE Prep can be undertaken to suit individual circumstances, either as a full-time 10-week course for recent law graduates or as part-time study spread over 20 or 40 weeks for ultimate flexibility.
The blended learning experience draws on BARBRI’s 50 years’ expertise as a specialist legal training provider. It combines online studying with full 1:1 support from your Learning Coach, alongside the opportunity to attend face-to-face touchpoint workshops, preparing you not only for a new style of legal assessment but also equipping you with the skills necessary to succeed and kickstart your exciting new law career.