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Legal profession ushers in Solicitors Qualifying Exam

By Jemma Slingo >>

(1 September 2021)

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam comes into force today, as the profession watches to see whether the new system will deliver on its promise to promote diversity and reduce the cost of qualification.

Developed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the SQE will eventually replace the Legal Practice Course. Requirements under the SQE include completing two years of qualifying work experience and passing two sets of assessments: SQE1 and SQE2.

Patrick McCann, global head of learning at Linklaters and chair of the City of London Law Society’s training committee, said: ‘As we enter the first round of the SQE, it’s important to see if the theory works in practice. Only with time will we see whether some of the concerns voiced by learning and development professionals at City firms, and in the wider profession, prove to be challenges once the system is in place.

‘Although the new system has a greater range of options and price points for students, the route to qualification will undoubtedly require preparatory courses, which we hope that trainees will opt for and anticipate that City firms will fund. The challenge will be to balance funding the various elements that increase the chances of qualifying with accessibility and availability of funding.’

Edward Sparrow, chair of the City of London Law Society, added: ‘As they adapt to this new system in the coming years, City firms will also be looking to ensure that the SQE delivers on its aims of promoting a diverse profession, whilst providing greater flexibility in training routes.’

Earlier this month, the Law Society published extensive guidance for firms ahead of the introduction of the SQE, saying good work experience could offset the need for expensive courses. However, there are still concerns that the SQE will create a two-tier profession based on the quality of training students can afford.

I. Stephanie Boyce, Law Society president, said today that the Society and its Lawyers with Disabilities Division continue to work with the SRA to ensure that the SQE is accessible for disabled candidates, including through the use of assistive technology.

She added: ‘The transitional arrangements give educational institutions and employers time to adjust their offering over the coming years. Anyone who falls under the arrangements will have until 31 December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor under the existing routes.

 ‘The Law Society will be monitoring the SQE as it is implemented and will continue to support the profession with QWE and employment considerations arising from the changes. We will also be continuing to ensure that those seeking to enter the profession are able to do so, by lobbying the UK government to ensure there is sufficient funding in place for all, that reasonable adjustments are available and there is fair treatment and opportunity for those who wish to practise the law.’

The University of Law (ULaw) has developed an LLM Legal Practice course costing between £12,000 and £16,500. The LLM – which will prepare students for both elements of the SQE – will eventually replace the Legal Practice Course, which costs between £12,900 and £17,500. ULaw’s biggest rival, BPP, has yet to announce its SQE course fees.

The first SQE examinations will take place in November 2021.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)