Updated: Aug 27
By Lily Edwards
Until 2021, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) was the traditional route to becoming a qualified solicitor in England and Wales. Students would graduate from a qualifying law degree (LLB) or could complete a conversion course such as the Graduate Diploma in Law or the Postgraduate Diploma in Law, before undertaking the LPC.
However, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) coming into force changes things. Students who began studying an LLB before 2022 have a choice of which to route to take. This may lead you to ask, “what is the difference?” and “which route should I take?”
To help you decide, we have compared the two routes, focusing on three main points:
- Exam content
- Training periods
The LPC costs between £12,000 and £17,000 and this depends on where you choose to study. However, one of the biggest drawbacks to the LPC is that non-LLB students must first take the GDL, which costs between £7,000 - £13,000. This means a non-LLB student could be looking at a maximum of £30,000 (before factoring in living costs!).
One of the main aims of the SQE is to make the route to qualifying as a solicitor more accessible, and this is certainly seen through the cost element. One of the biggest advantages for non-LLB students is that there is no requirement to take a conversion course. The SQE comprises of 2 exams, SQE1 and SQE2 and these are the same for LLB and non-LLB students. The SQE1 costs £1,558 and the SQE2 costs £2,422, bringing the total cost to £3,980.
To summarise the costs:
LPC cost (for LLB students) - £12,000-£17,000
LPC + GDL cost (for non-LLB students)– £19,000 - £30,000
SQE cost (for both LLB and non-LLB students) - £3,980
The LPC is comprises of two stages. Stage one is made up of foundation modules which everyone takes. This stage focuses on core modules including business aw and practice, civil litigation, criminal litigation and property law and practice. this stage also focuses on the practical elements of being a solicitor such as: advocacy interviewing and advising, practical legal research and drafting legal writing
Stage two of the LPC gives students the option of choosing electives. This is an advantage as it allows a focused approach to your chosen practice area. However, students who have secured a training contract may not have a choice on electives, with their firm choosing the elective in line with the practice area of the firm. The drawback of this that students without a training contract could potentially restrict which firms they can apply to depending on their chosen elective.
LPC exams consist of a mix of multiple-choice questions, written exams, oral exams, and coursework style assessments to be completed at home. This is somewhat similar to the style of assessment in LLB, which is an advantage if you prefer a variation of
The SQE also has two routes: SQE1 & SQE2. The SQE1 is similar to the first stage of the LPC, with a focus on core modules. The modules include:
Exam 1: Business and dispute resolutions, civil and criminal litigation, property law and practice, and criminal law
Exam 2: Business law, contract law, tort law, administrative law, estates and trusts.
In order to progress to the SQE2, you must pass the SQE1. The second stage, like the LPC, assesses practical skills, including oral and written. However, the big difference between the LPC and SQE is the examination style. The SQE exams consist of two multiple-choice exams, 180-questions long, with 5 hours and 6 minutes to complete. This is an advantage if you prefer an exam environment over practical exams, but the multiple-choice element certainly doesn’t make the SQE easier. This is because all the answers seem credible, but the exam takes a ‘single-best’ approach, meaning profound legal knowledge is required.
Summary: Overall, both the LPC and SQE have similar structures, both comprising of written and practical assessments. However, students yet to secure a training contract should be careful when choosing elective modules if they choose the LPC, as these could restrict the number of firms to apply to. If you are unsure which practice area you’d like to apply to, then the SQE could be good fit.
Training Period: Training Contract or Qualifying Work Experience
One of the most significant differences between the LPC and SQE is the fact that a traditional training contract is not required with the SQE. This is in line with making the SQE more accessible, as it is no secret that securing a training contract is one of the biggest barriers for students. Instead, the SQE requires a period of ‘Qualifying Work Experience’.
This has the same two-year time period as the LPC, but rather than a training contract at one firm, candidates have the option to undertake 2 years of work experience at a maximum of 4 organisations. Positions can be paid or unpaid, if they are approved by a Compliance Officer for Legal Practice and signed for by a solicitor within the organisation. This means a candidate could undertake 6 months working for Citizens Advice Bureau, 6 months at a university law clinic, and 12 months as a paralegal in place of 2 years at one firm.
Summary: The introduction of qualifying work experience is a major advantage and removes the notorious barrier of the training contract. Firms will still offer training contracts through the SQE, but removing the strict requirement makes qualifying as a solicitor more accessible and desirable.
Overall, there are advantages to both the LPC and SQE. However, your choice should be based on your own personal opinions, as currently there is no preferred option. The LPC will be phased out gradually, but students have until 2032 to take the LPC. Best of luck whichever route you choose!