Article written by Demi Akande
The SQE came into force in September this year, opening a window of possibilities for those who wish to qualify as solicitors in England and Wales. The SQE has opened the doors for students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to qualify as a solicitor. You’ll need a UK undergraduate degree, or a qualification or work experience which is equivalent to a UK degree. For example, this could be a solicitor apprenticeship. Left with the choice of applying for either the LPC or SQE, many students, including myself, are undecided on which route to go down. In this article, I consider the differences between both qualifying routes, and which course could be suitable for those who are undecided.
The SQE is a standardised exam for aspiring solicitors that will soon become the centralised route to qualifying in the UK, replacing the LPC.
Unlike the LPC, where students are required to access different assessments across different courses, the SQE provides the same scope of materials for students to complete the same exam and qualify under.
The SQE is split into two parts: stage one, and stage two. Stage one tests ‘Functional Legal Knowledge’, including real client-based scenarios and covering Business Law, Contract Law, Tort Law, Administrative Law, and Estates and Trusts.
The second stage of the SQE assesses your practical legal skills, including face-to-face assessments for oral skills, client interviewing, legal analysis, and advocacy. Online assessments also test written skills, including cases and matters analysis, legal research, legal writing, and legal drafting.
The two stages are accessed by way of 180 multiple-choice questions.
‘Although you may think that multiple-choice could be easy, all five answers will look plausible as they’re marked on a ‘single best answer’ basis, which will make it extremely difficult if you don’t have that same legal knowledge and understanding as someone who has completed an LLB or a law conversion course.’
Similarly, the LPC is also divided into two parts where stage one consists of foundation modules to complement LLB and GDL studies; they include Business Law and Practice, Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation, and Property Law and Practice.
Stage two allows for the option to choose modules specific to career goals and aspirations in the areas of, Corporate Finance, Commercial Law, Intellectual Property, and Immigration Law, amongst many others. Legal skills are learned and developed throughout this stage, including, advising and advocacy, interviewing, practical legal research, writing and drafting, professional conduct and regulation, solicitors’ accounts, taxation, will, and administration of estates.
As well assessing by way of multiple-choice questions, the LPC also examines students through written examinations, oral examinations, and take-home assessments.
Under the SQE, students will complete Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) which can be taken anytime within the SQE journey. However, it is anticipated that most firms will require trainees to undertake QWE after successful completion of SQE1, and before being eligible to sit the SQE2 examination. It is required that students complete two years of qualifying work experience with up to four different legal employers. In order to successfully meet the requirements of QWE, students can undertake work placements whilst studying for their LLB Law degree, with a full year’s placement, working as a paralegal or in a law clinic, as well as working for a two-year period within a single law firm.
The LPC route requires the completion of a training contract which comprises two years of regulated work-based training with a single employer with a firm.
Whether you take the LPC or SQE route to qualify, you will need to meet the SRA requirements for character and suitability in order to be admitted as a solicitor.
Unlike the rigidity in finding a training contract, the SQE route allows for flexibility and the opportunity to develop legal knowledge and skills amongst a range of different settings. This is a cheaper alternative route that all law firms will eventually have to adopt. Whereas the LPC offers a clear established pathway that will allow you to improve your skills and knowledge in a range of different areas according to interest, ultimately, the choice of studying the LPC or SQE is down to personal preference and individual circumstances. Those who have studied the LPC or would still prefer to qualify through that route (note that you must have started your legal training before 1 September 2021 to qualify under the LPC route) need not panic, with firms emphasizing that choice is paramount. Firms that are running SQE training programmes would slot LPC graduates into the SQE2 exam and qualifying work experience, LPC graduates would be exempt from SQE1.