updated on 18 October 2022
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) was introduced in September 2021. Here's everything we 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 a new system of exams that all solicitors must pass at the point of qualifying. It was introduced in September 2021 and will eventually replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Candidates already doing the LPC, a law conversion course or a law degree will not be affected (see more on the transition period 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 has 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 is QWE?
What does the SQE cover?
Where and when will SQE assessments take place?
How much will the SQE cost?
SQE preparation courses
The change reflects that the traditional route to become a solicitor (completing a law degree or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) (law conversion), then the LPC, followed by a two-year training contract) is no longer the only way to qualify. For example, the solicitor apprenticeship enables school leavers to qualify in six years by combining study with on-the-job training, while LPC students and graduates working as paralegals can qualify as solicitors through the equivalent means route.
Therefore, 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 “completed, started, accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit” on/for the 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 have 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 have 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 will 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 – made up of six firms, including Hogan Lovells and Linklaters – have had their first cohort of SQE trainees start this month (September 2022). 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!
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 you complete your QWE. SQE1 must be completed before SQE2, but 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 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 will 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 (ULaw) 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 ULaw before joining the firm as solicitor apprentices.
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 would 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 first-ever SQE2 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 will only be in Cardiff, Manchester and London initially but more locations will be available to choose from in future.
There will be multiple exam sittings throughout the year, providing flexibility to students, law schools and employers. The first SQE1 exams took place last year, with the first cohort of SQE candidates taking SQE1 FLK1 on 8 November 2021 and SQE1 FLK2 on 11 November 2021.
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 exams early as places will be offered on a first come, first served basis.
Booking for a January 2023 sitting of SQE1 FLK1 and 2 opened on 22 September 2022 and will close at 5:00pm on 19 December 2022. SQE1 exams look set to take place in January and July of each year.
Meanwhile, the first SQE2 written assessment took place between 11 to 13 April 2022; and the first and second sittings for the SQE2 oral assessment took place between 19 to 20 April 2022 and 21 to 22 April 2022 with additional dates added after. The second assessment window for SQE2 has also been confirmed, with both the written and oral assessments scheduled for October/November 2022. According to the SRA website, SQE2 written will take place from 7 to 9 November 2022, with three oral exam sittings scheduled for October 2022. The booking window for these assessments is now closed, however booking for the April/May 2023 SQE2 assessment will open on 8 December 2022 before closing at 5:00pm on 23 March 2023.
Following these, the next ones are due to take place in July and October 2023.
Please note, to book an assessment you must first register as an SQE candidate.
The cost of taking the SQE is £4,115. This is broken down into:
These figures don't include the SQE preparation courses that many candidates will 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.
While there are plenty to choose from, the cost of some of the SQE prep courses have been criticised by the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD). The JLD 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 £16,500 (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.
Candidates have two payment options for the exams. The first involves funding the SQE themselves – SQE candidates can pay for their assessments using a debit or credit card. Alternatively, some training providers or employers might purchase vouchers, that candidates can redeem when booking an assessment.
The 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.
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.
A range of postgraduate SQE1 and SQE2 preparation courses have been developed by providers such as BARBRI, BPP, ULaw, QLTS School, Nottingham Law School and the College of Legal Practice. These providers are offering full-time and part-time study options.
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 was the first provider to reveal fees for its new SQE courses. Its 40-week SQE1 preparation course starts at £2,999. It can also be completed over 10 or 20 weeks at the same cost. The first 40-week course started in September 2021, the first 20-week course started in June 2021 and the 10-week course began in August 2021. 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 starts at £3,999. It will be completed over 12 weeks. The first 12-week SQE2 course was timed to prepare students to sit SQE2 assessments in April 2022.
ULaw’s new LLM Legal Practice (SQE1 and SQE2) – a course designed to prepare students for both stages of the SQE and replace the current LPC – will cost between £12,300 and £16,950 (for 2022/23), excluding the exam fees to take the SQE itself. ULaw 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.
ULaw’s Peter Crisp, pro vice chancellor (external), 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 first full-time SLK course started in August 2021 and the first SLS course started in January 2022.
The next start dates for The College of Legal Practice’s SQE1 and 2 prep courses can be found via LCN’s guide to SQE prep courses!
At undergraduate level, students can expect 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. Additional SQE prep courses could also be announced over the next year.
Olivia Partridge (she/her) is the content manager at LawCareers.Net.