SQE: Standardising solicitor assessment in England
Professionals seeking to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales will now have a new assessment pathway to undergo, known as the Solicitors Qualifying Examination or SQE.
SQE is a centralised assessment that is a part of a new, four-stage route to becoming a solicitor in the region. It will be introduced on 1 September 2021 and is set to replace the current Legal Practice Course (LPC) pathway.
The SQE route is designed for both law students as those who have a non-law degree as revealed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The SRA is the UK organisation that regulates solicitors, law firms, and non-legal professionals in law firms.
According to the SRA, there are currently 104 institutions offering Qualifying Law Degrees; 33 offering the GDL; 26 offering the LPC, and over 2,000 firms offering traineeships in the region.
However, the lack of a common basis for assessing the quality of output from these bodies, or at the end of the training contract, is a cause of increasing concern.
SRA’s new announcement aims to provide options for delivering the new centralised assessments online due to the pandemic in order to maintain the high standard of expectations on solicitors in the region.
SQE will ensure that all aspiring solicitors are assessed against the same high standard of competence as its focus is ensuring that standards are both high and remain high.
“A strong and respected legal profession is enhanced if unnecessary barriers to good candidates becoming solicitors, regardless of their backgrounds, are removed,” SRA states on its website.
The new assessment is divided into two sections, SQE1 and SQE2. In the first part of the assessment, SQE1, would-be solicitors will be tested on ‘functioning legal knowledge’ which tests the application of the law, based on realistic client-based scenarios through a series of multiple-choice questions.
SQE1 will cover subjects taught in a law degree or a conversion course, as well as the vocational practice areas in stage 1 of the LPC.
It will consist of two lengthy multiple-choice papers of 180 questions each, covering all aspects of the SQE1 syllabus.
Applicants will only be eligible for the second part of the assessment, SQE2 upon passing the SQE1.
In the second part of the assessment, applicants will be tested on the practical legal skills required for practice, including interviewing (with written attendance note or legal analysis), advocacy, legal research, legal drafting, legal writing, and case and matter analysis.
The practice contexts that are tested include criminal practice, dispute resolution, property, wills, and administration of estates and trusts, commercial and corporate practice.
Under this route, applicants will be required to have a minimum of two years of working experience before they earn the qualifications required to become a solicitor.
The qualifying work experience or QWE is similar to the training contract and can be completed with up to four different legal employers.
QWE includes work placements, experience working as a paralegal or in a law clinic, as well as working for a two-year period with a single law firm.