The traditional route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales has now been phased out and replaced with the new Solicitor’s Qualifying Exam (SQE), but what does this mean for those wanting to pursue a career in law?
The Traditional route
Previously, upon attaining a law degree, graduates would be required to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which takes around two years to complete. Upon successful completion of the LPC, a period of two years training with a law firm is an essential part of the route to qualification. However, landing a training contract with a firm can be very difficult.
Due to the limited number of training contracts available, candidates are found to be applying for roles which do not utilise the skills and knowledge that they have obtained over the course of their studies, as a way of getting a “foot in the door” with a law firm, which can be disheartening after committing so much time and hard work to the lengthy process of becoming a solicitor.
The new SQE route
In contrast, the new SQE route offers candidates much more flexibility, and will allow graduates to obtain the key skills and knowledge that are necessary to be a successful solicitor.
The SQE route consists of two stages. Stage one will focus on Functioning Legal Knowledge, and is made up of two exams. SQE1 will assess how candidates can apply their knowledge in real life scenarios, which will provide a look into a candidates ability to demonstrate the skills necessary to be a competent solicitor.
SQE2 will assess a candidates core legal skills, and is made up of practical exercises in the form of an exam. Similarly, SQE2 will assess how candidates are able to apply those skills in practice, which is an essential element of day to day work as a solicitor.
As part of the SQE route, candidates will be required to undertake two years qualifying work experience (QWE). At first glance, this may appear to replace the traditional training contract. However, QWE is much more flexible, and will be more attainable for candidates in the long run. A candidate can gain qualifying work experience whilst completing their law degree through various channels. For example, working in a law clinic or as a paralegal, and this work can be paid or unpaid. Candidates will be required to work under the supervision of a solicitor, and this work can be undertaken with different teams and indeed different firms.
My current role
My current role at Bromleys is as a paralegal within the Care Team. I am four years into my studies to obtain a Law Degree (LLB Hons) with The Open University, and plan to pursue the SQE route upon completion of my degree. As highlighted previously, I can bank my qualifying work experience as a paralegal now, which means that if I successfully complete SQE 1 and 2, I can apply to be admitted as a Solicitor in England and Wales. This would reduce my qualification timeline from ten years to eight years*.
In an ever changing world, flexibility and attainability are necessary for those wanting to qualify as a solicitor. I began my journey after five years working in clerical roles in law firms, as opposed to going to university straight from college. Any route to becoming a solicitor requires commitment, and I myself have found it difficult at times to manage working full time, my studies and finding time for myself. However, the introduction of the SQE route has given me a sense of motivation, as the end goal of qualifying as a solicitor now appears to be more attainable.
The introduction of SQE is a welcomed and needed change not only for graduates, but those who wish to pursue a new career in terms of the flexibility it offers to its candidates. The need for solicitors and advocates is at an all time high as a result of the COVID-19, as we have seen at Bromleys with an accelerated rate of new enquiries to our various teams. It is never too late to pursue a new career.
Want to know more?
For more information on the new solicitor’s qualifying route, please visit https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/career-advice/becoming-a-solicitor/solicitors-qualifying-examination-sqe/
*For full time Students, the timeline for qualification from degree to admission would be around seven years on the traditional route, and five years through SQE.