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The Solicitor's Qualifying Exam (SQE): How the Legal Training Environment is Changing

Posted by Aaron Burton

The legal profession is approaching a new era for the training of junior lawyers with what the University of Law (ULaw) has called the 'biggest shake-up in legal education in decades'. The introduction of the Solicitor's Qualifying Exam, or the SQE, is set to change the way all solicitors qualify from 2021. So, what do we know so far?

The Solicitor's Regulation Authority have been consulting on reforms to the training of lawyers since 2015, and Kaplan have now been appointed as the examination adjudicator and assessor. One of the biggest changes will be that students no longer have to study a Qualifying Law Degree. You will still need an undergraduate degree or the equivalent experience - and a law degree will give you a solid foundation and help you with your studies - but a QLD will no longer be a formal requirement. Not only this, but the SQE differs from the current legal training framework where students don't start training contracts until they've passed the Legal Practice Course (LPC). The new form of examination is set to replace both the LPC and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) when it comes into force in September 2021. The SQE will be fundamentally different in that all law students will sit the same set of exams set by Kaplan no matter where or how they are studying, and going forward, the SRA will only use your SQE result to determine whether you have the knowledge and skills to become a solicitor.

Michael Castle, UK Managing Partner at Deloitte Legal has said, 'The legal training environment is undergoing significant change to contend with a rapidly evolving legal landscape'. Deloitte Legal has worked closely with ULaw to develop a new, innovative training programme to prepare future trainees for the SQE, ultimately allowing them to be at the forefront of what Michael Castle described as 'an exciting new era in legal education and training'. The challenge for the likes of ULaw will be to come up with a variety of SQE courses and tailor these to meet the needs of different students, as well as law firms' requirements, but they also offer the exciting opportunity to rethink the content and structure of preparation courses to guide students into their careers in the legal profession.

The new SQE training contracts will allow law students to take up their place straight out of university, meaning they are able to earn while gaining qualifying legal work experience before sitting their SQE examinations. Professor Andrea Nollent, Vice-Chancellor and CEO of ULaw views these new training contracts as a way for students to experience the real legal world earlier in their career and education. For ULaw, providing a practical, hands-on legal education is hugely important in nurturing the next generation of legal talent. 

The new and current systems will run alongside each other for some years to allow for a transition period, and the SRA has proposed that anyone who starts their legal training before the SQE is introduced will have the option to choose which route they would like to take - as long as the current process is completed within 11 years.

The Legal Services Board has voiced concerns about the quality, cost and diversity impact of the Solicitor’s Qualifying Exam (SQE). Following concerns flagged by the super-regulator, it seems that the final sign-off on the SQE is not a done deal yet, and there is more work to be done and issues to be addressed before the new form of assessment is approved. You can read more about recent developments in our most recent article Legal Services Board Voices Concerns: SQE Still Has a Long Way to Go.

The SQE presents a big change to the legal industry in terms of training and education of lawyers. There is nothing you need to do at this stage - exactly when the SQE will be formally introduced and what it will involve is still uncertain, but this will not be until 2021 at the earliest. The most important thing is keeping up-to-date with developments, and our legal recruitment experts are on hand to share all the information we have and to help ensure you are knowledgeable and informed when talking to potential employers.

For more information on this article, or to speak to Aaron Burton about your search needs, contact him on 020 7269 6350 or



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