Since September of 2021, there has been a change in how you train to become a solicitor in England and Wales. In the past, the usual route to qualify as a solicitor would have been to undertake a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or a Legal Practice Course (LPC) for this profession. However, these methods are now being phased out.
Replacing them is the Solicitors Qualifying Examination, also known as the SQE. The SQE is an integral part of a new four-step process that needs to be completed in order to qualify as a solicitor.
To become a solicitor now, you need to have a degree or an equivalent in any subject. You also need to complete a minimum of two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and show that you are of good character and suitability to become a solicitor. In addition to this, you need to have successfully passed the SQE.
So if you are interested in becoming a solicitor and want to know more about the SQE assessments, then this is the article for you. We’re diving into everything you need to know about the SQE and what is involved in this new examination.
What is the SQE?
The SQE, also known as the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), is a new centralised assessment for anyone that wants to qualify to become a solicitor in England and Wales.
The SQE consists of SQE1 and SQE2 that test your functioning legal knowledge and your practical legal skills. The assessments consist of multiple-choice questions, written skill assessments and oral skill assessments.
Let’s explore the SQE in a little more detail.
What does the SQE involve?
The SQE assessment consists of two separate parts – the SQE1 and the SQE2. You must successfully complete both parts of the SQE in order to qualify. You are allowed three attempts at each assessment stage, and you must pass both of them within six years.
The SQE is an exam rather than a course like some of the more traditional routes. However, you can take SQE Preparation courses to ensure the success of your SQE. These courses are particularly beneficial for those that would like to qualify with a non-law degree and those without a legal background.
Kaplan is the authorised sole assessment provider, and assessments are available across England, Wales and internationally at designated examination centres.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority is the governing body that determines what candidates need to know in the exams. It is worth monitoring their website for any recent revisions.
Let’s take a look at each part of the SQE in more detail.
SQE stage one
The SQE1 is based on ‘functioning legal knowledge’. It goes beyond your knowledge of English and Welsh law and dives into how you would apply it to real-life situations concerning ethics and professional conduct.
There are two exams in the SQE1, the FLK1 and the FLK2. Both contain 180 multiple-choice questions that are computer-based and must be completed within a single assessment window.
The SQE1 combines substantive and procedural law and tests functional knowledge such as application, problem-solving and decision making.
The first exam (FLK1) of the SQE1 covers:
- Business Law and Practice (including taxation)
- Dispute Resolution
- Contract law
- Tort law
- The legal system of England and Wales
- Constitutional and Administrative Law and retained EU Law
- Legal Services
The second exam (FLK2) of the SQE1 covers:
- Property practice (including taxation)
- Wills and the Administration of Estates (including taxation)
- Solicitors Accounts
- Land Law
- Criminal Law and Practice
In order to progress onto SQE2, you must successfully pass the SQE1.
SQE stage two
The SQE2 is focused on core legal skills. Similarly to the LPC exam, the SQE2 focuses on the everyday skills of being a lawyer, including drafting contracts and interviewing clients. Part of the assessment will test to see if your practical skills are of a high enough standard for a newly qualified solicitor.
The SQE2 is a combination of both written and oral tasks. Unlike the SQE1, there are in total 16 practical exercises. Twelve of these exercises are written skills assessments, and the remaining four are oral skills assessments. All students that take this assessment sit the same exam, and the 16 exercises take place over several days.
There are six key skills that are assessed in the SQE2.
- Client interviewing
- Case and matter analysis
- Legal research
- Legal written advice
- Legal drafting / legal writing
These six key skills are assessed across five different practice areas.
- Criminal practice
- Dispute resolution
- Wills and the administration of estates
- Business practice
The assessments on legal research, legal written advice, and drafting assessments are all available to be taken in designated locations across England, Wales and internationally.
However, to ensure consistency, the remaining three skills (client interviewing, advocacy and case and matter analysis) are only available in designated examination centres in England and Wales.
Why take the SQE?
There are many benefits of taking this new route for those who want to become a solicitor.
Firstly the SQE is much more flexible than the traditional methods of qualifying to become a solicitor. With the SQE, you can learn whilst you work and spread the course and exam fees over a longer period.
Secondly, from 2022 more employers will expect their future trainees to have qualified with the SQE, and as such, it is the most current and relevant qualification to obtain.
Thirdly, this is the most flexible entry into the profession that exists. The SQE, alongside the QWE, allows more people to begin a career as a solicitor who might not have the legal background expected by other routes. The SQE is reducing barriers and strengthening the diversity and representation of those working in law.
Fourthly, as the SQE route continues to grow, smaller LPC providers will discontinue their courses and likely migrate to the SQE format. This means that there will be fewer affordable and convenient LPC options.
Fifthly, the SQE will likely receive the most investment as Universities, law firms, and employers begin to shift their focus towards this new qualification.
Finally, the SQE is a new common assessment. This means that all aspiring solicitors are assessed to the same standards.
Do I have to do the SQE?
The traditional routes into qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales are starting to be phased out and replaced by the SQE. Now, no matter your background, you can qualify to become a solicitor with the SQE.
Law graduates, non-law graduates, those already working in a legal profession, paralegals, apprentices or even those qualified overseas looking to cross-qualify are all eligible to become solicitors in England and Wales by taking the SQE.
However, depending on your current circumstances, the route you decide to take might look slightly different. If you are already studying or training, you can continue to qualify through the existing route.
Let’s take a look at the options for those currently studying for a qualifying law degree, a GDL or MA Law and for those who will graduate from a non-law degree in 2022 onwards.
Currently undertaking a qualifying law degree
If you are currently undertaking a qualifying law degree, then at the moment, you can continue to the LPC (Legal Practice Course). The LPC is expected to continue to run until at least 2026. You can do the SQE, but it is not mandatory.
Currently studying a GDL or MA Law
If you are currently on a GDL or MA Law conversion course and started before September 2021, you can proceed to the LPC. As stated above, the LPC is expected to continue to run until at least 2026. You also have the choice to do the SQE, but it is not mandatory.
Currently studying a non-law degree
If you are currently studying for a non-law degree and are due to graduate in 2022 or later, the SQE could be the perfect route for you. If you are interested in becoming a solicitor, then the SQE is the way to do this.
How much does the SQE cost?
The total cost for each student to sit both the SQE exams is £3,980.
The cost to sit the SQE1 examination is £1,558. This includes the two sets of 180 multiple-choice questions.
You must pay for both exams for the SQE1 at the same time. However, you must book to sit each exam (the FLK1 AND FLK2) separately.
The cost to sit the SQE2 examination is £2,422. This includes the 12 written skills assessments and the four oral assessments.
You must pay for and book both the written and oral exams at the same time.
For more information on the cost of the SQE, check out this article, “What does the SQE cost?”
If you fail either of the examinations in the SQE1 (the FLK1 or the FLK2), it will cost £779 to retake each of these exams. If you fail both, then it will cost a total of £1,558 to retake both.
If you fail the SQE2, you will need to pay the full £2,422 to retake the exams.
How much does an SQE Prep course cost?
It is advised to complete an SQE Preparation course to help ensure the success of your exams. There are various course options available to suit your needs.
Here at BARBRI, we offer three different course options for the SQE1. There are two part-time course options and one full-time course that span between 10 and 40 weeks long. All BARBRI SQE1 Prep courses cost £2,999.
The SQE2 will run part-time over a period of 12 weeks.
As a BARBRI alumnus, the SQE2 Prep course is only £2,999. The standard price of the course is £3,499.
What is Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)?
To complete your full qualification to become a solicitor, you must also undertake a minimum of two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
It is anticipated that most students will choose to undertake this work experience between the SQE1 and SQE2; however, there is no specific time frame. You can choose to do this work experience at any time.
There are several types of placements that qualify as QWE, such as:
- Placements whilst at university
- Working in a law clinic
- Single law firm
You can complete the QWE with up to four different legal employers; however, some law firms may require you to complete the entire two year period with them. If you have already completed part of the required two years of your QWE, then it is up to the individual law firm to decide if they accept this previous work experience and sign it off. All QWE needs to be signed off by a legal employer who must also be a solicitor.
Overall, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination SQE is a new qualifying examination to become a solicitor in England and Wales. There are two parts to the SQE, the SQE1 and the SQE2.
In a nutshell, the SQE1 consists of two multiple-choice exams that both consist of 180 questions. The SQE1 takes place over two days and tests your ‘functional legal knowledge’, examining your application of the law based on client-based scenarios.
The SQE2 consists of 16 exercises in total, 12 of which are written assessments and four of them oral. The SQE2 is focused on the practical legal skills required in order to practice.
Whilst it is not necessary to complete a preparation course, it is advised to help ensure that you successfully pass the SQE to qualify as a solicitor. If you are interested to learn more about the preparation courses available with BARBRI, click here.