The SQE: The cusp of real transformation
It’s an exciting time when you think we could be on the cusp of real transformation! The legal profession is often thought to be slow to change and perhaps unfairly old fashioned. There are well trodden career pathways and educational routes that demonstrate skill and competence, and create new solicitors through established channels, primarily the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC).
Having been in place since 1993 many people in practice today will have qualified to be a solicitor this way. The routes are familiar, tough and vocational. They help prepare you for the illusive and highly competitive traditional training contract. Typically, it has been law firms that offer training contracts but as training contracts continue to remain out of reach for many or, in some instances is not the path future lawyers want to take – what options exist?
Times are a-changin’ and the Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) has been introduced. In November 2021 the first SQE1 exam rolled out; it will become the only way to qualify as a solicitor in England & Wales as the GDL and LPC disappear over the coming years. In-fact, for aspiring lawyers who are not already doing a law degree, LPC or conversion course the SQE is already the only route.
But what do these changes mean beyond a different way to qualify?
Firstly, it means that private practice firms need to review how they bring their trainees through. Secondly, and most importantly, it provides in-house teams with the opportunity to think about how they might develop their own talent and structure their teams by taking control of the process to suit their business needs.
So, how exactly will the SQE work? Can legal teams be confident that lawyers that qualify through the SQE route, will deliver the same quality of legal work? How does the SQE open opportunities for would-be lawyers to qualify in-house versus the more traditional law firm training contract route?
The ABCs of the SQE
Breaking it down, the SQE consists of 3 key parts:
• SQE1 – assesses legal knowledge through a two-part multiple-choice examination
• SQE2 – assesses practical legal skills through oral and written assessments
• QWE – demonstrates experience gained by providing legal services enabling lawyers to develop competences they are assessed on in SQE2
There are several SQE1 and SQE2 exam sittings across the year and a variety of ways in which aspiring lawyers can prepare for the SQE via training providers such as BARBRI that promote flexibility, enabling people to earn whilst they learn and gain necessary experience. QWE can be obtained at any point before, during or after the assessments; meaning that individuals now have more choice and options available to them as they carve their own career paths from those considering next steps as they come through their education journey to those who have been in the legal profession for many years waiting for a chance to qualify.
Consistent high standards and rigorous testing: The SQE
Still there to provide rigorous testing, the SQE also allows for the chance to widen accessibility as one no longer needs a law degree (you do need an Undergraduate degree or equivalent) or a conversion course to get started. Similarly, apprenticeship opportunities are also becoming real and valued alternatives.
However, this doesn’t mean it becomes easy or standards slip, the SQE is intended to assure consistent high standards for all qualifying solicitors and will provide consistency in assessment. The SQE tests knowledge, competence and individuals’ ability to perform the role of solicitor effectively.
The Qualified Work Experience (QWE) element will offer more flexibility around where and when legal students can gain experience to develop the necessary competencies which will need to be over a two-year period but can be spread across four different experiences. Whilst training contract style approaches will likely continue within some law firms – placements, volunteering, paralegal work and other examples of providing legal services can all count towards QWE.
There remains much confusion around what this change means and questions around impact on quality and experience but really what this means is the opportunity for transformation if we start to think differently. We don’t have to try to replicate what’s been, we can shape and mould and build structures that make sense for individuals, businesses and the future of the legal profession.
About the author:
Lucie Allen – Managing Director, BARBRI International – an established and energetic leader with over 20 years commercial experience working across a variety of industries and verticals. She spent 7 years at Thomson Reuters prior to joining BARBRI in a global role as vice president in the legal segment where she worked closely with global law firm leaders. Lucie has created organisational structures, built teams, defined propositions and developed successful customer account programmes throughout her career to deliver top line growth.
Recognised for her collaborative approach, influence and ability to execute on her strategic vision, Lucie is passionate about diversity and inclusion advancement in the workplace as well as supporting people with their personal development and career goals to achieve their potential. She is a cohort lead for Thrive with Mentoring, a not-for-profit women’s mentoring programme, sits on the board for London Skills for Growth and London South East Colleges Group as well as ByFoke, a start-up business in the retail sector.
About BARBRI Group
BARBRI offers a comprehensive suite of learning solutions for higher education institutions and law-related businesses. These include global qualification preparation, such as preparation for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), U.S. bar exam, the Professional Skills Course (PSC), as well as curriculum, assessment, online programme management, and professional development.