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Changes to Legal Training in England and Wales

Are you thinking of becoming a solicitor in England or Wales? If so, you may have heard about the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). This new framework of rules will govern how to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales.

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The SQE aims to ensure that all trainee solicitors, regardless of their entry route, sit the same qualifying exam to produce consistently high standards. It will eventually replace the traditional route of accredited law degree (or the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL))/ Common Professional Exam (CPE) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has now pushed back the introduction of the SQE by another year to autumn 2021, instead of autumn 2020 as originally anticipated.

Under the new system, to qualify as a solicitor candidates must:

  • have a university degree or equivalent in any subject
  • pass the character and suitability assessment set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (as before)
  • pass SQE stage one, which mainly tests functioning legal knowledge
  • pass SQE stage two, which mainly tests practical legal skills
  • have two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE)

Considerations

  • Students undertaking a law conversion course in 2019 or 2020 will theoretically be able to choose whether to qualify via the new SQE route or the old route featuring the LPC, while transitional arrangements are in place. From September 2021, it’s anticipated all other aspiring solicitors will qualify through the SQE.
  • Unlike the two-year training contract at one firm under the current system, the two years’ QWE under SQE can be gained in up to four placements at different organisations. QWE may include volunteering at a law clinic or working in a paralegal role at a law firm.
  • However, most law firms remain strongly wedded to the training contract model. There are concerns that a ‘two-tier’ system might emerge, where firms prefer QWE that resembles a traditional training contract and overlook candidates who have gained their QWE through a mix of volunteering and paralegal work.
  • The potential costs of the courses that will enable students to pass the SQE is still not known. According to Julie Brannan, SRA, Director of Education and Training, it is likely that a number of courses costing different amounts will arise, including degrees that make students SQE-ready, and it will be up to universities and law schools to design them.

If you’d like to know more about becoming a solicitor or barrister in England and Wales have a read of our resources.

Keep up-to-date with developments through the SRA’s Career in Law Facebook page.

 

 

(Image CC0 by WilliamCho on Pixabay)

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