The Solicitors Qualifying Exam
Updated on 23 April 2022
From September 2021, the way someone qualifies as a solicitor in England and Wales is changing. This document gives some brief details of the changes and what they might mean for you studying law at Dundee.
The content on this page dates from November 2020 and may be out of date. It is currently (February 2022) being reviewed.
Reforms to Qualifying as a Solicitor in England and Wales
Because changes are made from time to time to these regulations, and especially at the moment because the SQE is still coming into force, the information in this document may be out of date. While we take every effort to keep it accurate and up to date, it is your responsibility to check with the regulatory bodies (i.e. via their websites) what the current situation is.
What are the changes?
The legal profession in England and Wales is split into two arms: solicitors and barristers. In order to gain access to these professions, you need to fulfil certain requirements. This has involved an 'academic stage' and a 'vocational stage' of legal training, followed by a period of in-work training. An accredited undergraduate LLB degree in English law (known as a 'Qualifying Law Degree', QLD) has traditionally fulfilled the 'academic stage' of training for both solicitors and barristers. The routes then diverge at the 'vocational stage', with the Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by a Training Contract being the route to solicitor, and the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) followed by a Pupillage being the normal route to barrister.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) regulate the solicitors' profession. The SRA has recently made changes to the way solicitors become qualified, replacing the previous routes with a new system. This new system is made up of four elements that need to be fulfilled, although not in any particular order. The four elements are:
- An undergraduate degree in any subject
- Successful completion of the new centralised Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQE1 and SQE2)
- Successful completion of a period of recognised work experience
- Passing the SRA's character and suitability requirements (a final step before qualification)
This is a big change. It is not coming into effect until autumn 2021, and there are transitional arrangements in place. Full details are on the SRA's website.
What is the SQE?
The SQE replaces the academic stage and part of the vocational stage of the old route to becoming solicitor. It tests for the legal knowledge and practice skills that were previously covered by the Qualifying Law Degree and the Legal Practice Course.
It has two parts: SQEl tests for substantive legal knowledge such as criminal law, tort, contract, etc; SQE2 tests for practical skills such as client advice, interviewing, and legal writing. SQEl is made up exclusively of multiple choice questions, while SQE2 involves practical activities such as interviews and written advice.
Full information of the topics covered and the assessment specifications can be found on the SRA's website.
How does this affect me?
The SQE route will be open from September 2021, with the first sitting of SQEl being in November 2021. If you have accepted an offer, or are already studying, for a QLD (or an LPC) on or before 31 August 2021, then you will be able to follow the existing LPC route, although you will need to complete your full qualification as a solicitor by 31 December 2032.
Once running, the SQE route will be open to anyone wishing to qualify as a solicitor, which means that even if you are currently doing your law degree (or accept a place on one before the end of August 2021) you have the option of following the LPC or SQE routes. See below on costs.
Anyone starting or accepting a place on a law degree after 31 August 2021 will have to follow the SQE route if they wish to practise as a solicitor.
What about becoming a barrister?
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) regulate the barristers' profession. The BSB have decided not to adopt the SRA's changes, so if you wish to become a barrister you will still require the equivalent of a QLD. Although technically the concept of a QLD will no longer exist, the subject and study requirements for the BSB are equivalent to what was required for the QLD. This means our English degrees here at Dundee may be used as part of your qualification route to the Bar.
While the QLD is being retained, the BPTC is being abolished and replaced with a range of different professional skills courses that can lead to the Bar. See the BSB's website for full details.
What about qualifying for practice in Northern Ireland?
The routes to qualifying as a solicitor or barrister in Northern Ireland remain unchanged, and thus will still require the equivalent of a QLD. As with the English bar, Dundee's English LLB degrees fulfil this requirement. See the websites of the Law Society of Northern Ireland and Bar of Northern Ireland for full details.
What about qualifying for practice in Scotland?
The position in Scotland and the qualifying Scots degrees are unaffected by the changes.
How much does the SQE route cost?
One of the key reasons for the SRA changing the system was to reduce the cost of entering the profession in an effort to widen access in the interests of equality. The tuition fees for an LPC can vary from around £10,500 up to £17,000 or more, depending on the institution offering the course. The cost of sitting SQEl and SQE2 will be roughly £4,000.
While it is not a formal requirement, if you are wanting to qualify as a solicitor you may wish to consider taking an SQE training course. Because of the nature of the assessments (multiple choice questions, professional legal skills, and including substantial procedural elements currently covered by the LPC) doing an undergraduate law degree is unlikely to prepare you for passing the SQE. This is a very new and emerging market, so do some research as to what is available and the costs involved. Some universities who have previously offered the LPC may now start providing SQE preparation courses, but there are also a number of private providers now offering courses. The SRA maintains a list of SQE training providers.
The total cost of a preparation course plus the SQE exam fees will vary on many factors, but bear in mind that total cost could be more or less than the traditional route via the LPC. Another thing to consider is the possibility to 'earn while you learn'. Because most of the elements of the new qualification route do not need to be done in any particular order, it may be possible, for example, to gain paid qualifying work experience alongside undergraduate study or preparatory study for the SQE.
Just as currently some large firms offer to cover LPC tuition fees for training contract candidates, it is anticipated they may well do the same for SQE preparation courses, or potentially offer these courses 'in house' to trainees. But again, things are quite uncertain at the moment, so make sure you do careful research as to what is available. It is also unknown what order and combination of elements employers will favour in looking for their new solicitors.
Is it still worth doing an English law degree?
A law degree is no longer required in order to practise as a solicitor in England and Wales (to be clear: it is still required for the English Bar and for practice in Northern Ireland, and a Scots degree is required for Scotland). While not a formal requirement, an LLB is still likely to be very valuable when it comes to securing qualifying work experience, further employment, and when learning the substantive law for SQE1.
An English LLB has been a formal requirement and a well-respected degree for legal practitioners (and many other professions) for many years, and that 'kudos' will not disappear with the SQE. On a practical level, an English LLB thus remains an important and valuable part of working towards becoming a solicitor and may give you an advantage over another applicant who took a route that did not involve any formal legal training.