In Autumn 2021, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) introduced the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), which is replacing Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) route to become a solicitor
Students who began a law degree, LPC or GDL prior to September 2021 can continue with their current qualifications until they are completely phased out in 2032. However, from this point on, all students will have to pass the same exams in the SQE before they can qualify as a solicitor.
The SQE will need to be taken in conjunction with a minimum of two years of qualifying work experience with a law firm. Applicants are also required to satisfy the SRA’s character and suitability, and English language requirements.
What are the differences between the SQE and LPC?
1. Standardised exams vs individual university courses
The LPC and GDL are courses that feature individual examinations that related to specific topics or career aspirations, set by various universities. This means that pass rates and standards can vary widely, and students felt compelled to attend highly regarded universities to stand out to employers. However, the SRA has now standardised the SQE so that every student must pass the same exams and complete the same amount of work experience, regardless of whether they have a law degree, different degree or Level 6 apprenticeship. The exams can be taken in various locations across the country and world.
2. Open to all graduates (or those with Level 6 qualifications) vs having to do a conversion course
With the old system, in order to qualify as a solicitor, law graduates had to take the LPC route, while non-law graduates could only progress through first completing the GDL and then completing the LPC. This was costly and excluded many graduates from a non-law background.
3. Flexibility in learning method and duration vs full-time on campus
The duration of the LPC is one academic year when done full time, or two years if done part-time. With the SQE, there are various exam dates throughout the year, and a preparation course at BARBRI can take anything from a flexible 40 weeks to an intense 10-week sprint leading up to each exam date. Some post-graduate university courses include preparation for the SQE, but these modules are sometimes scheduled to be completed months before the actual exams.
4. Work experience vs a traditional training contract
On the LPC route, candidates needed to secure a training contract at a single law firm or organisation, covering four seats of six months each. Training contracts can only be offered by a firm or organisation that are authorised to work with trainee solicitors. Competition to obtain a training contract is fierce and not succeeding leaves many good graduates disillusioned and unsure of their next career steps.
With the SQE, aspiring solicitors must complete two years of the broader Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) in up to four organisations, and this can be completed before, during or after the SQE assessment. This means that a professional who have been working in the legal field for several years may be able to get their prior experience signed off by a solicitor to count towards QWE.
Which pathway is cheaper: SQE or LPC?
The SQE can also work out cheaper than the LPC and GDL, which could cost upwards of £19,000 depending on institution (though the average is around £15,000). Currently, applicants must pay the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) a total fee of £4,115 to sit both the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments, although this excludes the cost of an SQE preparation course and other studying materials.
Applicants don’t have to take a preparation course to sit the SQE, but the sheer number of topics and information in the exams mean that taking a prep course can greatly improve your chances of passing the first time. The cost of the SQE is just one incentive to pass the exams as quickly as possible, as well as the speed at which students want to progress through their application.
BARBRI's SQE Prep courses
BARBRI offers full and part-time SQE1 Prep courses, which are offered online with the full support of a 1:1 learning coach and a fellow student community. Video lectures, workbooks and practice lectures will help you to gradually build the knowledge you need to pass the exams first time.