The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) will be the main way to qualify as a solicitor from 2021. It introduces a new approach to qualifying which will help to broaden the route to becoming a solicitor. Flexible work experience arrangements, a move away from training contracts, and a rethink of degree requirements all make becoming a solicitor more accessible than ever.
The SQE will soon replace the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) as the main routes into becoming a solicitor in England and Wales. If you’re a Legal Executive exploring the next steps in your legal career, understanding the SQE is a must.
This guide explains the SQE, and what it may mean for Legal Executives looking to make the move to become a solicitor.
What are the benefits of qualifying as a solicitor via SQE?
The SQE makes the route to becoming a qualified solicitor more flexible than the traditional routes. Previously a trainee would need a law degree or conversion course and would usually complete a traditional training contract. Now the requirements are for a degree or equivalent, and it doesn’t need to be a law degree. Level 6 apprenticeships or courses like the CILEx Level 6 Diploma in Law and Practice are degree-equivalent options that are accepted.
Requirements like the GDL have been removed entirely. Instead, the route consists of two assessment phases (SQE1 and SQE2), and a period of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). SQE1 assesses legal knowledge and understanding, whilst SQE2 assesses the practical application of legal knowledge. Two years of QWE must be completed too, usually taking place between SQE1 and SQE2.
Costs can be lower than previous routes too, with a wide variety of training providers beyond the more traditional universities. You may have chosen the CILEx as a more practical route into the legal profession, but now the SQE makes the transition from Legal Executive to solicitor straightforward.
Does my experience as a Legal Executive count towards SQE Qualifying Work Experience?
Yes, experience as a Legal Executive can be used as Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). Two years of experience is required as part of becoming a solicitor through the SQE route. This requirement replaces the need for a training contract.
Qualifying Work Experience is designed to be flexible and can be met through relevant work placements at up to four organisations. This could include paralegal work, volunteering at a law centre, or working as a Legal Executive. The flexibility makes gaining the required experience straightforward, avoiding the need to be accepted onto a training contract. A practising solicitor or Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP) must sign off the recorded experience.
QWE may be performed between SQE1 and SQE2 assessments, with trainees preparing for SQE alongside gaining experience. This will give trainees a chance to apply the legal knowledge developed in SQE1. However, the SRA has not specified when QWE must be undertaken. So, candidates can choose to complete QWE before, during or after the SQE exams.
Should you undertake a CILEx course or SQE?
A Chartered Legal Executive and solicitor are both qualified lawyers, and in many circumstances will be performing similar roles. The main difference is in the breadth of training. CILEx training is focused on a chosen area of law, whereas a solicitor will usually have a broader training. Both will be trained to the same high level in their chosen field, but a solicitor may have wider training and experience.
Historically, CILEx has been the more practical and flexible route to becoming a legal professional. It has clear routes for students without a degree to work through the CILEx course levels. However, the SQE brings positive changes in flexibility and improved access to the profession, widening the routes to becoming a solicitor. Training contracts are no longer a must, there’s standardised assessment across all areas, and the training providers are varied. The flexible training provision makes SQE an attractive choice.
Changes around QWE means trainees don’t have to rely on gaining a training contract placement. Trainees can instead use experience from up to four organisations, including paralegal roles or work as a Legal Executive. Whereas the number of training contracts was historically a bottleneck for aspiring solicitors, SQE changes make gaining relevant experience more accessible.
The CILEx Level 6 Diploma in Law and Practice can also be used to meet the ‘degree or equivalent’ requirement for the SQE. This opens up the SQE to non-graduates who may have chosen CILEx for the more practical route to a degree-level qualification. If you’ve taken steps to become a Chartered Legal Executive, read our CILEx Fellows guide to SQE.
I’m a Legal Executive in another country, can I still undertake the SQE?
Yes, provided the correct Qualifying Work Experience is signed off by a registered solicitor in the UK. With one standardised assessment route and no requirements for a specific degree, the SQE makes training more accessible than ever.
For international lawyers wanting to requalify as a solicitor in England and Wales, the SQE replaces the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS). The foreign lawyer will need to complete the SQE but may be exempt from certain requirements if existing relevant knowledge is proven.
Preparing for SQE as a Legal Executive
BARBRI SQE courses will help prepare you for both SQE1 and SQE2, with expert tutors and fine-tuned delivery. BARBRI will help you take the next step in your legal career, guiding you on the journey to becoming a solicitor.
Find out more about BARBRI SQE Prep courses today.