The first part of an answer is easy. SQE stands for Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination and from 2025 the only way to get qualified as a solicitor in England and Wales will be to pass it. Nothing to worry about then? So far in the future that we’ll have had two general elections and Brexited by then! True, but the new qualification process will start to be introduced from 2020. If you’re a law student now or considering legal studies it’s worth knowing what this is all about.
So it’s being phased in?
Exactly. If you start the process of legal professional qualification before August 2020 you’ll be allowed to complete that qualification process under the current system of Qualifying Law Degree (QD) (or Graduate Diploma in Law -GDL), Legal Practice Course (LPC) and two year period of recognised professional training. You start the qualification process either by starting a QD or by starting the GDL. For more details on this do look at my video resources.
Does this mean the whole thing’s irrelevant if you’ve started those studies?
Not quite. Currently QDs and GDLs don’t have a shelf life. You don’t have to go straight on and complete the other stages of the qualification process.
You might have considered looking at career options outside the legal profession before ploughing on with the next stage of qualification. This has advantages. It can allow you to reflect on whether law is really for you. If you decide that indeed it is, then the chances are that by doing something else first you will have enhanced your offering to employers. You could always come back to law and you’d probably stand a better chance of getting a training contract.
Similarly you might have decided to work as a paralegal for a while before going off to do the LPC. Doing that can help you decide whether law is for you, allow you to gain relevant experience and may lead directly to an offer of a training contract. Many firms only recruit trainees from their pools of paralegals. It’s possible to qualify without ever having a training contract, but by working as a paralegal in a variety of roles and garnering a range of experience, before applying to the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority for admission as a solicitor, on the basis of that amassed experience.
Effectively the SQE is introducing a shelf life to your QD or GDL qualification and you need to keep your eye on the clock. Remember that it will typically take you a minimum of three years to get qualified after you have achieved a QD or GDL (one year LPC and two years training contract or period of recognised professional training). There is some flexibility here – shorter LPC or doing a part time LPC over two years while working but keep the three year period in mind.
So, counting backwards you’ll need to be getting the LPC “sorted” and be clocking off time on the period of recognised professional training by 2022 at the latest.
What happens if you miss the 2025 deadline?
Sadly it’ll be no different from getting to the station too late for a train. The old qualification path will no longer be open to you and you’ll have to start again with the SQE.
Is that going to be a big issue? Won’t the SQE be just like the QD/GDL and LPC?
No. It won’t. The SQE is a two part exam. You’ll have to complete SQE stage 1 before starting a period of work based training. That first exam aims to test you on a range of skills to the level of a minimally competent newly qualified solicitor. It’ll include practical as well as academic legal skills in the fields of ethics, litigation, property and estate management. Your old QD or GDL is very unlikely to have covered all the material so you’d need to get help to study for the new exam.
A two part exam? When do you do SQE stage 2?
This is another big difference from the current system. The intention is that you will do your period of work based learning, still expected to be two years, then you will be assessed for SQE stage 2. Some of the assessment will be in the form of observation of your skills.
How is this going to work for law firms?
This is the bit we’re not yet sure of. Many of the larger firms have expressed concerns that the new process will not provide them with trainees who have enough knowledge and I have heard talk suggesting that some law firms may get together to put some more LPC style training in place which you might undertake internally. It’s going to be worth following the market closely and taking the time to talk to law firms about their plans. Watch this space!
If you’re a law student at Warwick and you have any concerns come and see me. We can talk in more detail about all of this. Just don’t worry about it. The university exams are of much greater importance right now!