Understanding the SQE and what it means for me

SQE: The new route to qualify as a solicitor

In September 2021, the Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE) became the new centralised way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. It will eventually replace the current route to practice – the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

Here at The University of Law we’ve been looking closely at the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)’s plans as they’ve developed over the last few years, and now bring you everything you need to know about the SQE.

What is the SQE?

The SQE is part of a new, four-stage route to becoming a solicitor:

  • A degree (or equivalent) in any subject
  • Pass SQE1 and SQE2 assessments
  • A minimum of two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE)
  • Show you are of satisfactory character and suitability

What does the SQE involve?

The SQE has been divided into two parts – SQE1 and SQE2.

In SQE1 you will be tested on ‘functioning legal knowledge’, which tests your application of law based on realistic client-based scenarios in multiple choice questions. The assessments will cover subjects you will have studied on a law degree or a conversion course, as well as the vocational practice areas in stage 1 of the LPC. There will be two lengthy multiple-choice papers of 180 questions each, covering all aspects of the SQE1 syllabus. You must pass SQE1 before being eligible to sit the SQE2 assessments.

In SQE2 you will be tested on the practical legal skills required for practice, including:

  • Interviewing (with written attendance note/legal analysis)
  • Advocacy
  • Legal research
  • Legal drafting
  • Legal writing
  • Case and matter analysis

How does the SQE differ to the LPC?

The LPC route

  • Qualifying Law Degree (QLD) or a law conversion course: This is known as the academic stage of training, where you learn key areas of law. You complete it either by having a QLD, like our LLB, or you will need to have started or completed a law conversion course, such as our GDL, before progressing on to the LPC.
  • Legal Practice Course (LPC): The LPC is known as the vocational stage of training, where you learn how to apply the law. You can either study just the minimum requirements of the LPC, or choose to include some extra content to earn a Masters qualification, such as our LPC LLM or LPC MSc.
  • Training contract (or ‘period of recognised training’): After completing our LPC you need to work for two years as a trainee solicitor, commonly called a training contract.
  • Apply to the SRA to be admitted as a solicitor
  • Qualify as a solicitor

The new SQE route

  • Undergraduate degree or equivalent: To become a solicitor, all applicants must either have an undergraduate degree, or equivalent. Importantly, a QLD will no longer have any special meaning for the process, but it should help candidates prepare for some of the SQE assessments.
  • SQE1: All applicants will have to sit and pass the SQE1 assessments. SQE1 will mainly assess your legal knowledge through multiple-choice examinations. You must complete SQE1 before progressing to SQE2.
  • SQE2: Again, all applicants will have to sit these assessments. SQE2 will assess your legal skills through practical examinations and assessments.
  • Qualifying Work Experience (QWE): You’ll need to complete a minimum of two years’ QWE, which can be with up to four different legal employers.
  • Apply to the SRA for qualification: The SRA will complete quality and suitability checks only at this stage of the process to determine whether you are eligible to become a solicitor

Can I still complete the LPC route?

You can continue with the current LPC route if by 31 August 2021 you completed, started, accepted an offer or paid a non-refundable deposit for one of the following:

  • a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)/the Common Professional Examination
  • our MA Law
  • the Legal Practice Course (LPC)
  • a period of recognised training (also known as a training contract)

For a qualifying law degree (QLD) and exempting law degree (ELD), such as our LLB, you must have completed, started, accepted an offer or paid a non-refundable deposit by 21 September 2021.

In most cases, for the QLD, ELD and CPE, the relevant course must start at the latest on or before 31 December 2021.

If you have already started a qualifying law degree, GDL or training contract there are transition arrangements in place until 31 December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor under the current routes, as long as courses still remain available.

I’ve started the LPC route – can I switch to the SQE?

Yes. If you have chosen to study the LPC during the transitional period, you will be able to sit the SQE exams in the future if you wish, although this is unlikely to be necessary if you pass the LPC as you can continue to qualify under the current route.

If you have chosen to study the GDL or MA Law, you will be able to select either route on completion of your programme.

What is Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)?

QWE can be completed at any point during the qualification process (although it is anticipated that most students will complete this after SQE1).

QWE may be completed with up to four different legal employers. The type of work which qualifies as QWE includes placements while studying for your degree, time spent as a paralegal or working in a law clinic, as well as working for a two-year period with a single law firm.

Stay up to date

Whatever route you take to qualify as a solicitor, it’s still important to keep up to date with the latest news about the SQE. Find out more at law.ac.uk/sqe.

Don’t forget to take a look at our SQE courses. If you’re unsure of the best pathway or course for you, we’re created a useful quiz to help you decide.