updated on 15 August 2023
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam was introduced in September 2021. Here's everything you need to know about the new exams, from the syllabus to the format of the exams themselves, to the cost for candidates, to what law firms, universities and law schools are doing.
By now, you probably know that the SQE is the new centralised assessment that all aspiring solicitors must pass to qualify. It was introduced in September 2021 and will eventually replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC). There are transitional arrangements in place between now and 2032 – you can read more on these below.
The SQE is divided into two stages, with SQE1 covering functioning legal knowledge; and SQE2 focusing on practical legal skills and knowledge. The new system of exams was introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and is being provided by Kaplan.
Recent updates in the news
Why’s the SQE replaced the LPC?
How will the SQE affect people already studying a law degree, GDL or LPC?
How do I qualify as a solicitor under the SQE?
Qualifying through the SQE: what do I need to do and when?
What does the SQE cover?
Where and when will SQE assessments take place?
How much will the SQE cost?
SQE preparation courses
The SRA designed the SQE with the aim of ensuring consistent, high standards for all qualifying solicitors while introducing increased flexibility. So while all aspiring solicitors must now pass the same centralised assessment to qualify, the SQE enables solicitor apprentices to qualify in six years by combining study with on-the-job training, while SQE students and graduates working as paralegals can qualify as solicitors by completing the SQE.
In short, the SQE is now the final, centralised assessment at the end of all these different pathways to ensure that all qualifying solicitors are tested consistently, regardless of the route they’ve taken.
In recent years, the SRA’s efforts to introduce more routes to qualifying have been aimed at increasing competition and innovation among universities, and widening access to careers in the profession. The SQE is intended to further increase flexibility by keeping the current system’s requirement to complete two years’ legal work experience (now referred to as ‘qualifying work experience’ (QWE)) but making it possible for volunteering roles and placements through university to count towards the total (as well as paralegal experience, much like equivalent means).
According to the SRA, anyone who’s “completed, started, accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit” on/for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), LPC or training contract before 1 September 2021 can choose which route they take to qualify (ie, LPC or SQE).
The SRA’s transitional arrangements also apply to candidates who had completed, started, accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit on/for a qualifying law degree (QLD) or exempting law degree (ELD) by 21 September 2021 (inclusive).
Candidates who accepted a place on a QLD, ELD or GDL must have started the course on or before 31 December 2021 – this transitional arrangement applies in most cases.
There’ll be a long transition period running until 2032, in which candidates who are already on one of the former courses can qualify as solicitors in the ‘old’ way (ie, LPC/GDL and a training contract).
However, although the LPC will remain a valid alternative to the SQE, universities may stop providing the LPC for new students before the official transition period ends in 2032. In addition, over the past few months, we’ve seen firms start to adopt the SQE in various ways. For example, the City Consortium firms have their first cohort of SQE trainees finishing the City Consortium Solicitor Training Programme in August ready to start their training contracts in September 2023. While other firms will start to take on SQE trainees from 2024 onwards.
That said, some firms will be taking on a hybrid cohort, consisting of LPC and SQE applicants. It’s important that you check what your shortlisted firms are doing in this regard so you know what’s expected of you.
‘Are law firms still recruiting LPC graduates?’ – find out what firms are doing in this Oracle.
There are four requirements to qualify as a solicitor via the SQE. You must:
The SQE is a graduate assessment so you'll first need to complete a degree (law or non law) or equivalent.
The rules on when you complete the SQE and QWE requirements offer real flexibility but many firms are likely to have preferences regarding when and where you complete your QWE (because most firms will want to train you themselves). However, the SRA doesn’t stipulate any requirements in this regard, other than the SQE1 must be completed before SQE2. QWE can be completed before, alongside or after SQE1 and SQE2.
Once SQE1 is completed, there's no time limit on when a candidate must complete SQE2 or qualify. Candidates must have completed their two years of QWE before they apply for admission to the roll of solicitors.
QWE can be undertaken before, during and/or after completing SQE1 and SQE2, at up to four organisations such as law firms, law centres and university pro bono clinics.
Read ‘What counts as QWE?’ for more advice on the type of work you can do.
A single placement doesn't have to be a minimum length of time – the two-year total just needs to be completed within the maximum of four separate periods of QWE.
Each placement must be signed off by a solicitor at the organisation, compliance officer for legal practice, or failing the first two, another solicitor outside the organisation with direct experience of the candidate’s work. It's up to the confirming solicitor to decide whether the QWE meets the SRA's requirements.
QWE isn’t assessed by the SRA, unlike SQE1 and 2. But as SQE2 tests practical skills, QWE should involve candidates learning the skills they'll need to pass SQE2.
Find out more about how to get your QWE accredited via The Oracle!
There’ll no longer be a requirement for trainee solicitors to work in a specific number of different areas of law, or experience both contentious and non-contentious practice areas.
Many firms will almost certainly continue to offer two-year training contracts. Firms aren't obliged to shorten the period of training they offer if a candidate has already gained some experience, and many have training programmes that prepare solicitors for life within a specific specialism, working environment and client base.
Some employers may prefer longer training contracts that include part-time study so that trainees can prepare for SQE1 and 2 while working. ‘Big four’ accountancy firm Deloitte (which also provides legal services and trains solicitors as an alternative business structure) launched a three-year training contract that combines working as a trainee solicitor with studying to pass SQE1 and 2 at The University of Law one day a week. A spokesperson for the firm said that the approach will enable law graduates to start their training contracts “straight out of university, allowing them to start earning immediately while gaining qualifying legal work experience before sitting their SQE1 and 2”.
The graduate solicitor apprenticeship is another alternative way firms might adopt SQE – for example, Hill Dickinson LLP launched a graduate solicitor apprenticeship to replace the firm’s traditional training model. As of March 2022, the firm’s future generations of junior lawyers will join a graduate solicitor apprenticeship programme to study for the SQE at The University of Law before joining the firm as solicitor apprentices.
‘What’s the difference between a solicitor and graduate apprenticeship?’ – find out in this LCN Says.
Plus for more information on how the SQE will impact training contracts, read this Oracle.
Do you have more questions about QWE? This LCN Says addresses a number of FAQs that we’ve recently encountered.
The SQE is split into two stages – SQE1 and SQE2.
The first stage, SQE1, covers 'functioning legal knowledge' (FLK). It tests not just your knowledge of the law, but how you’d apply it in real-life situations as a solicitor.
SQE1 is made up of two exams, each containing 180 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) that test how candidates would apply their legal knowledge, research and writing skills in real scenarios across different practice areas.
The first 180-question exam covers:
The second SQE1 exam covers:
The SRA has released these SQE1 sample questions.
Find out about the first-ever SQE1 results in LCN’s News.
SQE2 covers 'practical legal skills' and involves both oral and written assessments. The emphasis on the everyday skills of lawyering, such as drafting contracts and interviewing clients, means that it tests many of the same skills as the LPC.
However, a key difference between SQE2 and the LPC is that it tests to the level of a newly-qualified solicitor, not a trainee solicitor – that is, it tests whether your practical skills are at the standard required of a newly qualified solicitor. A candidate’s ethics and professional conduct will also be tested throughout this stage.
SQE2 assesses the following six key skills:
These skills are assessed across five practice areas:
SQE2 is made up of 16 practical exercises (four oral skills assessments and 12 written skills assessments) covering the six areas of law above. It's a uniform assessment, meaning that all students sit the same exam. The 16 exercises take place over multiple days but result in one overall mark. SQE2 oral will take place over two half days and SQE written will take place over three half days.
Find out about the latest SQE results in LCN’s News.
Students will sit SQE1 and 2 written assessments at their nearest Pearson test centre in the UK and internationally (where driving theory tests in England and Wales take place). SQE2 oral assessments are available to take in Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester and London with the written assessments available to take at Pearson VUE locations in the UK and internationally.
There’ll be multiple exam sittings throughout the year, providing flexibility to students, law schools and employers.
FLK1 and FKL2 must be taken in the same assessment window unless a candidate has an exemption. The SRA is encouraging aspiring lawyers to register for the SQE1 exams set to take place in January and July of each year.
According to the SRA website, SQE2 written assessments will take place in January, April, July and October.
You can check the SRA’s dates and locations page for the most up-to-date information regarding the exam arrangements.
Please note, to book an assessment you must first register as an SQE candidate.
The current cost of taking the SQE is £4,115. This is broken down into:
However, this price will rise from September 2023 to £4,564:
These figures don't include the SQE preparation courses that candidates should take before attempting the exams. LCN has created a guide to SQE preparation courses, which includes the costs and course content on offer at different law schools and universities.
You can also search for SQE prep course via LCN’s Courses search function.
While there are plenty to choose from, the cost of some of the SQE prep courses has been criticised. The Junior Lawyers Division (now the Junior Solicitors Network) had expressed concern that the overall costs of completing the new ‘super exam’ is likely to rival, if not exceed, the costs of the LPC. For example, at the top end courses could cost between £13,000 to £17,000 (excluding the exam fees) – similar to the cost of the LPC. That said, at the lower end some providers are offering less expensive alternatives, which could see the total cost of the SQE (including exam fees) come to around £10,000 – a significantly lower figure than the LPC. The price of these courses will reflect the material candidates will have access to, as well as contact time with tutors, for example.
There are funding options available for the SQE depending on the way a candidate chooses to complete the prep courses and training. For example, various optional SQE preparation courses being developed by different law schools will also include the option to combine with a master’s, making them eligible for the postgraduate loan in the same way as the GDL and LPC; and some training providers (ie, the law firms) will offer funding for their trainees in much the same way as they’d previously done for the LPC.
You can find out more about funding the SQE preparation courses via The Oracle.
It's not compulsory to complete a preparation course to take the SQE. However, many candidates will choose to take one to give themselves the best chance of passing the SQE – in fact, if you’ve secured a training contract with a firm, they'll most likely require you to take a preparation course before attempting the assessments.
A range of postgraduate SQE1 and SQE2 preparation courses have been developed by providers such as BARBRI, BPP, The University of Law, QLTS School, Nottingham Law School and the College of Legal Practice. There are full-time and part-time study options available depending on your circumstances.
Find out more about The University of Law's SQE, LPC and law conversion courses today:
If you’re a non-law student, there are specific SQE preparation courses available that incorporate the PGDL/GDL, or aspects of it.
To find out more about whether you need to take a law conversion course before embarking on the SQE as non-law student, read this Oracle.
BARBRI’s 40-week SQE1 preparation course starts at £2,999. It can also be completed over 10 or 20 weeks at the same cost. Each course is timed to lead directly into sitting the external SQE assessments, which can be sat at various times during the year. BARBRI's SQE2 preparation course also starts from £2,999 for BARBRI SQE1 alumni, otherwise it'll cost candidates £3,499. It can be completed over 20 or 10 weeks. There’s also an SQE Foundation course available, which can be bought as a package with BARBRI’s SQE1 Prep course for non-law graduates or law graduates who want a refresher.
Find out about the success rate of BARBRI candidates taking the SQE in the LCN News.
The University of Law’s new LLM Legal Practice (SQE1&2) – a course designed to prepare students for both stages of the SQE and replace the current LPC – will cost between £12,800 and £16,950 (for 2023/24), depending on location and excluding the fees to take the SQE assessments. The University of Law has several other SQE prep courses on offer, including its MA Law (SQE1), which is designed for non-law graduates; it acts as a law conversion course and includes SQE1 preparation.
The University of Law’s Peter Crisp, deputy vice-chancellor law, said: “Our new programmes will enable students to pass the SQE with confidence as well as making them office-ready for practice in a law firm by empowering them with the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for a successful career in law.”
Interested in studying at The University of Law? Find out whether they have an open day coming up!
The College of Legal Practice, established by The College of Law Australasia, has also revealed the cost of its SQE preparation courses, which includes a module called Solicitors Legal Knowledge (SLK) for SQE1 and Solicitors Legal Skills (SLS) for SQE2.
The SLK course (SQE1 preparation) will cost £1,800 and is available as a 13-week full-time course or 20-week part-time course, while the SLS Course (SQE2 preparation) will cost £2,300 and is available as a 10-week full-time course and 20-week part-time course. The College of Legal Practice also has an LLM in Legal Practice available from £6,900.
At undergraduate level, students may also have the option to undertake a modified law degree that combines SQE1 preparation with the traditional LLB.
These new courses provide a variety of options and a range of different fee levels and learning styles, but at the top end of the fees scale, early promises that the SQE would make becoming a solicitor more affordable than the LPC route have so far not been realised.
The above is just a short overview of the courses on offer – LCN’s guide to SQE preparation courses goes into more detail and has information about courses on offer at other legal education providers, including QLTS School, Law Training Centre and Nottingham Law School.
Our advice to you is to speak to firms to find out how they’re adopting the SQE as this may impact your decision between the LPC and SQE (if you’re eligible to choose), as well as how you build up your QWE. Make sure you also regularly check LCN’s SQE hub for the most recent updates.
Olivia Partridge (she/her) is the content manager at LawCareers.Net.