In 2021, the path to becoming a solicitor is changing. The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) will become the main way for prospective solicitors to qualify in England and Wales from September 2021. It will replace the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) as the main routes into the profession.
If you’re a Chartered Legal Executive looking to take the next steps to qualify as a solicitor, understanding this change is important. A CILEx Fellow will need to be eligible for the Equivalent Means Route or must qualify through the SQE. CILEx practitioners may be able to apply for exemptions from requirements of the SQE course, on account of existing qualifications or experience.
This guide explores the SQE and what it means for Chartered Legal Executives who may have started or wish to start the journey to become a solicitor.
Becoming a solicitor through the Equivalent Means Route
The launch of the SQE in September 2021 will replace the existing routes to becoming a solicitor in phases. SQE will be the main route for new trainees, but you may be a Chartered Legal Executive who has already started a traditional route to becoming a solicitor. There are transitional plans in place, which means existing routes are open to those that are eligible until the end of 2032. So aspiring solicitors who have completed, started, or accepted a place on an existing training route will have until the end of 2032 to qualify.
One such route is the Equivalent Means Route. The route recognises that as a practising Chartered Legal Executive, you’ll have already met many of the academic requirements of training to become a solicitor. This may mean an exemption from having to complete a training period. You may also be exempt from having to complete the elective part of the Professional Skills Course, though will still need to have completed the compulsory subjects.
To qualify through the Equivalent Means Route as a Chartered Legal Executive, you’ll need to:
- Have completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC)
- Have completed the core modules of the Professional Skills Course.
- Meet the character and suitability requirements set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority
- Produce a certificate of good standing from CILEx
If you don’t meet the criteria for the alternative routes, from September 2021 you’ll need to qualify through the SQE route.
What do I need to qualify for SQE?
Becoming a solicitor through the SQE route is made up of four main elements, including the completion of the SQE assessments as one requirement. This will become the main route for prospective solicitors from September 2021. As a Chartered Legal Executive, existing experience and qualifications can mean exemptions within the SQE route, most notably the Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
To become a solicitor through the SQE route, you must:
Have a degree or equivalent
The SQE route requires a degree or equivalent in any field, so removes the traditional requirements of a law degree or conversion course. The CILEx Level 6 Diploma in Law and Practice is an equivalent qualification so meets the requirements.
Pass the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)
The SQE is made up of two distinct assessment phases, SQE1 and SQE2. SQE1 focuses on testing legal knowledge and is completed first. SQE2 focuses on testing practical skills in law.
Complete at least two years of Qualifying Work Experience
CILEx fellows can gain exemption from the Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) requirement, having years of professional legal experience. In typical circumstances, trainees would need to complete up to two years of relevant legal work experience in up to four different employers or organisations. This can be work placements, paralegal roles or even volunteering work. Regardless of circumstance, any work must be signed off by the Compliance Officer for Legal Practice or solicitor.
Meet SRA character and suitability requirements
Trainee solicitors must meet character and suitability requirements as assessed by the SRA.
What are the benefits of qualifying as a solicitor via SQE?
Through the SQE, the Solicitors Regulation Authority aims to standardise the route into becoming a solicitor. It broadens access to the profession beyond the traditional routes, removing the need for a law degree or conversion course.
Changes to the required legal work experience makes qualifying through SQE more flexible too. The traditional Law Training Contract was often a bottleneck for trainees trying to enter the profession. However, the process of QWE is more flexible, with trainees able to mix and match experience from up to four organisations.
CILEx Fellows that are not eligible for the Equivalent Means Route will need to opt to qualify through the SQE route. But there are a range of exemptions that make it more straightforward for a Chartered Legal Executive to qualify. This includes exemptions from the QWE element of the SQE, as it is recognised that CILEx Fellows will already have the needed legal experience.
CILEx vs SQE
CILEx is known for providing a practical and flexible route to becoming a lawyer, with non-graduate routes to degree-level CILEx courses. For those looking to take the next step, the SQE brings changes that greatly improve access to the solicitor profession, while retaining the high standards of training.
Both a Chartered Legal Executive and a solicitor are trained to the same advanced level of legal practice. The difference is mainly in the breadth of this training. CILEx Fellows will generally have a legal focus, with training focusing on specific legal practice and specialising in one area. Solicitors will specialise too but will receive more general and broader legal training in the first instance.
CILEx Fellows wanting to qualify as a solicitor may be seeking career progression, a change of legal practice area, or may see the qualification as a personal goal. With a standardised route into becoming a solicitor, for a Chartered Legal Executive, the move is more streamlined than ever.
Preparing for SQE as a CILEx fellow
BARBRI SQE preparation courses provide aspiring solicitors with expert insight into both SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. BARBRI has years of experience providing training to legal professionals and its courses will fit your specific needs as a CILEx Fellow.
If you’re a Chartered Legal Executive exploring SQE options, find out more about BARBRI SQE Prep courses today.