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Understanding the SQE: A Guide to the New Solicitor Exam

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

By Lily Edwards

Introduction to the SQE

The SQE (Solicitor’s Qualification Exam) was introduced last year, and in 2032 will completely replace the traditional route of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). But what is the SQE and what does it mean for current and future students who wish to become solicitors? Keep reading to find out.

Why has the route to qualifying as a solicitor changed?

This is one of the key questions. The traditional LPC already exists, so why fix something that isn’t broken, right? Well, the LPC isn’t ‘broken’, but there are certainly areas which make qualifying difficult; like the cost, as well as the difficulty in securing a training contract. But overall, the aim of the SQE is to make sure that all students have the same standard of assessment.

Let’s re-cap the current LPC route:

  1. You must graduate from a Qualifying Law Degree (LLB) and then study the Legal Practice Course. After this, students complete a training contract, which is a two-year long period of practice with a firm. OR

  2. Graduate from any degree subject, then study the Graduate Diploma in Law, followed by the LPC and a training contract.

One significant change with the SQE is made by ensuring that no matter which route students take, be it through an LLB, GDL or apprenticeship that all students must pass the same qualifying exam which guarantees that standards are consistent.

What does the SQE consist of?

Now we have re-capped the LPC route, let’s compare it to the route under the SQE. To qualify through the SQE, there are 4 requirements:

  1. Have graduated from a degree in any subject (or equivalent qualification e.g., degree apprenticeship)

  2. Pass stage 1 and stage 2 of the SQE

  3. Undertake two years of qualifying legal work experience

  4. Satisfy the character and suitability criteria of the SRA

This means there is no requirement to have any legal degree/qualification (although it does help). However, courses are available to prepare all students for the SQE exams.

How much does the SQE cost?

The SRA has stipulated that the fee will be a total of £4,115. This includes

  • £1,622 for SQE1

  • £2,493 for SQE2

However, it should be noted that this does not include the cost of preparation courses!

SQE Content

Let’s take a deeper dive into what the content the SQE consists of. We know already that it is split into two parts:

1. SQE1: Exam Based

This is the first stage after finishing your degree and consists of two 180 multiple-choice question exams (known as FLK1 and FLK2) which test functioning legal knowledge. Each exam takes 5 hours and 6 minutes and must be taken in one ‘assessment window’. This can be done over 2 days.

1. SQE2: Practical Based

SQE2 focuses more on practical legal skills. This part is made up of 16 exercises with 4 oral assessments and 12 written assessments. The core theme of these assessments is professional ethical conduct. It should be noted here that to sit the SQE2, you must have passed SQE1.

Here’s a breakdown of the timeframe for each assessment:

  • Oral element: 2 half days

  • Written element: 3 half days

  • Professional ethical conduct: Assessed throughout

I want to do the LPC - Can I decide which route I want to take?

Well, this depends. The change from LPC to SQE is a big one, so there is a large transition period to reflect this. If your law degree/GDL started before September 2021, you can choose to do either the LPC or SQE until 2032, and after then the SQE will be the only route.

However, if you began studying after 2021, you cannot take the LPC route to qualify as a solicitor and you must take the SQE. This also means that the GDL can no longer be taken, and students who have taken a non-legal qualifying degree subject must now take SQE1 in place of the GDL.

What is the difference between qualifying work experience mean?

Through the LPC, finding a training contract was the crucial element to qualifying, and has been known to be the biggest hurdle for candidates, with the difficult application processes and competitive nature being no secret.

So, the element of qualifying work experience is one major advantage to the SQE as it offers significant flexibility to candidates by removing the strict requirement of a ‘training contract’ as we know it.

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.

Where do I take the SQE?

Exams for SQE1 will be taken a Pearson test centre. There are multiple test centres in England and Wales, and you can choose which one you’d like to sit the exam at. You can find your nearest test centre here.

One important thing to note is that the SQE2 assessments at this time can only be taken in Manchester, Cardiff, and London, but the SRA has stated that more locations will become available in time.

There are multiple assessment windows throughout the year, which can be found here. However, spaces to take the exams are on a first come basis, so it is advised to register as a candidate and book your exam soon as you are ready to take them!

Can I re-sit if I don’t pass?

Candidates are only granted 3 attempts at SQE1 and SQE2 which must be undertaken in a 6-year timeframe. SQE1 results typically take around 6-10 weeks to arrive, and it’s a bit longer for SQE2 exams, with 14-18 weeks to wait for results.

Final thoughts

Though it is a big change, it is a good one: the SQE provides much flexibility and more cost-efficient options to students. Whether you take the SQE or LPC we wish you the very best of luck!

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