From 2021 the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) becomes the main way an aspiring solicitor will qualify in England and Wales. It gradually phases out the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Paralegals can take the SQE and use their professional experience as part of the Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) part of the process.
The SQE’s purpose is to standardise the assessment of prospective solicitors. A single assessment means a consistent standard of qualified solicitors from different routes. The SQE is more flexible than the traditional route because it ensures a diverse array of prospective solicitors.
This guide explores what the SQE means, and how the changes may help paralegals on their route to becoming a qualified solicitor.
What does the SQE mean for paralegals?
The main part of the SQE assessment is a series of exams broken up into two compulsory stages. Standardising the assessment means high standards are maintained regardless of the trainee’s starting point.
The most notable change for paralegals is the work experience requirement. Traditionally, prospective solicitors would have to complete a training contract. This is a supervised training period of two years at a law firm or legal department. Trainee solicitors would do it following a law conversion course or after graduating with a law degree. The training contract was the final step in becoming a qualified solicitor.
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) replaces the training contract with Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). Experience as a paralegal can contribute towards this legal work experience. The change brings greater flexibility for legal professionals working towards becoming a solicitor. This is also widening the scope for achieving the required experience. Learners can gain the required experience from up to four separate employers. So paralegals can gain valuable experience across different areas of law should they choose.
QWE can be undertaken before, during or after completing the SQE. However, we predict that the two years of experience will generally take place between the first and second stages of the SQE. At this point, trainees can gain vital experience within a law setting and can demonstrate their legal knowledge. The candidate must document this experience. A qualified solicitor or Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP) would then need to sign it off. You can check out Flex Legal’s Journal to help you track this experience.
Does the SQE make it easier for paralegals to qualify?
The SQE retains the same high assessment standards for prospective solicitors. Yet, it also makes the route to becoming a solicitor more flexible. After all, a law degree or conversion course is not a requirement for someone to start the SQE. Prospective solicitors will still need to hold a degree or equivalent. However, other requirements, such as the GDL, are removed.
This makes the process for non-law graduate paralegals more straightforward. They can focus on the SQE instead of embarking on a conversion course. Also, prospective solicitors have a more varied field of training providers to choose from. Paralegals especially can benefit from different routes. The cost of SQE preparation and training courses is often much lower than the previous training routes. Plus, training providers like BARBRI offer flexible SQE preparation courses that can be completed alongside paralegal work. For example, our 40-week SQE1 Prep course is ideal for those currently in full-time employment.
Previously, the available number of traditional training contracts was limited. This then meant it was hyper-competitive to get a place as a trainee, creating a bottleneck into the profession. In contrast, the QWE option is more flexible and doesn’t need to be completed in one set placement. This makes the process for plotting a route from paralegal to solicitor more straightforward.
Does my work experience as a paralegal count as Qualifying Work Experience?
Experience as a paralegal does count as Qualifying Work Experience. Prospective solicitors can gain relevant experience from up to four employers over two years. This can include work placements at law firms, paralegal work in clinics or volunteer work at a law centre. The requirement is for this work experience to demonstrate the competences highlighted by the SRA.
QWE will need to be completed before being admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in England and Wales. It’s undertaken alongside or after the SQE exams and assessments, or commonly between stage one and two of the SQE.
The experience within a legal service setting is an important way to develop the skills needed as a solicitor. Trainees can apply the legal knowledge assessed in stage one of the SQE. Examples of relevant roles include degree placements, legal secretary work, experience as a paralegal, or a training contract.
SQE requirements for becoming a qualified solicitor
The SQE standardises the assessment process of becoming a qualified solicitor. There are several different routes a prospective solicitor may take whilst training. However, all must complete the same SQE assessment. A centralised approach means solicitors are consistently showing the same standard of admission.
There are four main elements set by the SRA that prospective solicitors must meet to become qualified.
Have a degree or equivalent qualification
A law degree or a non-law degree with a conversion course is no longer a requirement. The requirement is now for a degree or equivalent in any field.
Pass the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)
The SQE consists of two exam stages. Stage one (SQE1) assesses legal knowledge. Stage two (SQE2) assesses the practical application of legal knowledge and skills. Trainees must pass stage one before beginning stage two.
Complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience
Prospective solicitors will need to complete at least two years of relevant legal work. This can be with up to four employers. It will need to be confirmed by a solicitor or a Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP).
Meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) character and suitability requirements
The final stage is a character assessment by the SRA to ensure prospective solicitors are suitable. This includes consideration of any previous criminal conduct or evidence of dishonest behaviour.
Preparing for SQE
BARBRI is the world’s largest legal exam preparation experts and specialises in expert guidance for SQE assessment. BARBRI SQE Prep courses cover both SQE1 and SQE2 stages of assessment. They include personalised study plans and one-to-one support. For more features and information on this, please visit this page here.
Flexible study options mean the course works around your schedule. BARBRI SQE Prep draws experience from more than 50 years of training international lawyers and can help you prepare with confidence. Find out more about the BARBRI’s SQE preparation courses today.