To say that 2020 has been a year of unprecedented change for the legal industry, still doesn’t seem to do justice to the huge amount of upheaval the sector has experienced during the past twelve months. When the pandemic descended at the start of the year, law firms had to quickly reassess their strategies for the year ahead and figure out how to keep staff working and clients happy. Naturally, technology played a big part in this. Not without hiccups, the sector rose to the challenge – perhaps better than most could’ve imagined – and not only kept their operations running but discovered that the ‘virtual law firm’ of blue-sky board meetings could actually work in reality.
Against this backdrop of rapid change, routes into the sector were also changing within legal education through the introduction of the new Solicitor’s Qualifying Exam (SQE) by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Designed to open access to the industry to a wider and more diverse pool of candidates and make the path to qualifying as a solicitor more affordable, the first cohort of SQE students will get underway in the New Year.
Introducing the latest change to legal education
At the forefront of support for the introduction of the new SQE, BARBRI is in a privileged position as the first legal education provider in the UK to be offering the new course in 2021. Kicking off in January, BARBRI will welcome the first cohort of students to study for the new SQE as they embark on a 40-week SQE1 Prep course. Their very first steps to qualifying as solicitors in England and Wales!
Students who start the SQE1 Prep course in January will be ready to sit the first SQE exams in November 2021. SQE1 is a computer-based exam which tests legal knowledge using multiple-choice questions, while the second part of the assessment, SQE2, is designed to help students develop the practical skills of becoming a solicitor.
Of course, to prepare students for life as a solicitor, the new SQE assessment also includes a mandatory work experience element. The Qualifying Work Experience or QWE component requires two years to be spent getting hands-on, practical experience in the legal sector. However, the good news is that this is much more flexible than the previous LPC. Students can complete their work experience at up to four different employers and this could include paid or unpaid work, working as a paralegal, in a student law clinic, at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or even the placement element of a sandwich degree course.
Enhancing the client experience
The flexibility of the QWE element of the SQE means that the legal industry will gain a new generation of solicitors with a huge spectrum of experience across different areas of the law. This, in turn, can only benefit clients, in terms of access to legal counsel with a variety of experiences and knowledge bases to draw upon.
Similarly, the fact that the new SQE is structured to be much more affordable than its predecessors and designed to allow people to work while studying will ultimately benefit clients. The SQE route to qualifying as a solicitor builds a strong pathway for making the legal sector of the future much more diverse and inclusive, just like the clients it serves.
While 2020 has been a time of great uncertainty and challenges, one thing the pandemic has served as is a reminder that evolving and adapting to meet client needs is what makes or breaks a successful law firm. Whatever the future holds, legal education and services must react and adapt to what clients want. Ensuring the next generation of solicitors have a diversity of skills and experiences to meet these needs can only be a positive move for the legal sector.