updated on 25 May 2022
“Can I still qualify as a solicitor via the Legal Practice Course (LPC) even though the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is now the new pathway into the profession?” This is a question that is becoming increasingly more familiar as many aspiring lawyers consider their next step towards qualification.
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Despite the introduction of the SQE in September 2021, some students will have the option to qualify via the LPC. Making a decision between either route shouldn’t be taken lightly – there are several factors worth considering, which this article will outline.
LPC versus SQE
The LPC was the traditional vocational stage of training to be a solicitor that follows either a law degree or postgraduate law conversion course and focuses on the practical skills required to be a successful lawyer. It can be completed either full-time over a year, part-time across two years or, in some cases, accelerated (as with The University of Law (ULaw)). The LPC is designed to get you ready for work as a trainee solicitor. There are two stages to the LPC:
LPC candidates must pass a range of assessments, including oral, and open- and closed-book exams.
Head to LawCareers.Net’s LPC page to find out more about this route into the profession.
To find out whether you can still qualify via this route, read the 'transitional arrangements' section below.
The SQE is a system of exams that all solicitors will eventually have to pass at the point of qualifying. It will ultimately replace the LPC but for now, the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) transitional arrangements enable eligible students to decide between the two routes.
Like the LPC, the SQE is split into stage two stages:
Unlike the LPC, the SQE doesn’t have any set training – it is just a system of exams. That said, legal education providers like ULaw have developed several SQE courses that are designed to help candidates get ready for the SQE assessments.
Find out about ULaw’s SQE courses via its website!
For those who choose the SQE as their preferred route to qualification, it’s important to note that both non-law and law graduates are being encouraged to take relevant SQE preparation to give themselves the best chance of passing the SQE assessments when the time comes.
Interested in studying at ULaw, find out when the next open day is for an insight into life at the university.
So, who actually has the option between the two routes? According to the SRA, anyone who has “completed, started, accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit” on/for the GDL, LPC, MA law or training contract before 1 September 2021 can choose which route they take to qualify (ie, LPC or SQE).
These 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). This means that if you are currently in the second or third year of a law degree, you will still be able to take the LPC in order to become a solicitor.
The transition period will run until the end of 2032, giving candidates until then the chance to qualify via this route, with some firms looking to recruit hybrid cohorts of LPC and SQE candidates.
Not every firm will choose to recruit this way so it’s important that you check what your shortlisted firms are doing with regards to adopting the SQE. Some firms have added their plans for the SQE to their LawCareers.Net profile.
It’s also important to note that over the next few years, there will likely remain a strong focus on studying the LPC for those who are eligible. According to Legal Cheek’s survey, taken by 33 law firms, 42% said they will make the full transition to the SQE in 2024.
Should I do the LPC or the SQE?
There are several factors to bear in mind when making your decision – the main one being that you should choose the route that best suits you and your circumstances.
As you probably know, the traditional legal training model adopted by firms is a two-year training contract. For candidates who already have a training contract lined up for 2022/23, taking the LPC is likely to make more sense because it is the tried and tested route that law firms are used to.
With a training contract commencing after a candidate has finished the LPC, many candidates secure a training contract with a firm that will fund the LPC for them. This is a great way to reduce course costs, so candidates who’ve already got a training contract lined up are likely to continue down the LPC route for now.
Find out about ULaw’s LPC courses via its website.
With the introduction of the SQE, candidates are required to collect two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE). Some firms have revealed their plans to continue to run their two-year training contracts for SQE candidates as they are keen to train their future lawyers at the firm – this training is likely to look very similar to the traditional training model with most firms requiring students to complete SQE preparation courses ahead of starting the SQE assessments and their training at the firm (in many ways mirroring the LPC route).
Firms are under no obligation to shorten the training period if a candidate has already built up some accredited QWE, which is worth bearing in mind. For example, if you have previous paralegal experience that counts towards the required QWE, it’s important to note that if you do choose the SQE, not all firms will reduce the period of training in light of experience you might already have. If your shortlisted firm is happy to reduce the period of training, this might sway you towards the SQE; otherwise, sticking with the tried and tested route might make more sense for you at this stage.
If you’re yet to secure a training contract or are keen to build up your QWE elsewhere, you can do so in up to four separate periods via the SQE route. Your QWE can be completed in a variety of organisations, including law firms, law centres and paid or voluntary experience.
You can find out more about what counts as QWE via The Oracle.
It’s also important to note that the graduate solicitor apprenticeship is another alternative way that firms might adopt the SQE.
Thinking about the way you want to train and finding out what your shortlisted firms are doing training-wise is key. You shouldn’t go into this decision blind, so find out what will be expected of you depending on the route you choose before you make your decision.
Having studied a degree, you’re likely to have experienced several different assessment types. By now, you hopefully know what type of assessment suits you. If you’re choosing between the LPC and SQE, it’s worth looking at the different ways in which you will be assessed.
LPC assessments differ between education providers, so you will need to do some research, but most institutions choose to assess candidates via open-book exams and written assessments. For example, ULaw’s LPC assessments include:
The SQE is assessed in two parts:
One of the main differences between the skills assessments, is that the LPC tests to the level of a trainee solicitor while the SQE tests to the level of a newly qualified solicitor. Candidates will have different preferences here and there is no right or wrong way to think about it. If the way you’re assessed is likely to play a significant role in your decision-making, you should conduct some further research into your preferred LPC provider’s assessment types.
Find out more about ULaw’s LPC and how candidates are assessed via the ULaw website.
The fees associated with the LPC and SQE are important factors. While the SQE is designed to reduce the cost to qualifying as a solicitor – and in some respects it does – fees for completing the LPC and SQE are not dissimilar.
Studying the LPC in 2022/23 can cost up to £17,950 in London, with fees outside of London significantly cheaper ranging from around £13,000 to £15,000. When combined with an LLM, the LPC is eligible for postgraduate funding.
Find out more about postgraduate funding in The Oracle: ‘Are the GDL, LPC and SQE eligible for the postgraduate student loan?’
Meanwhile, the cost of taking the SQE1 and SQE2 amounts to £3,980. However, this only covers the cost of taking the exams. The fees associated with the SQE preparation courses vary depending on the provider and course content, for example:
You can find out more about the SQE preparation courses via LawCareers.Net’s guide.
Weighing up the costs and your likelihood of securing a job is an important factor to consider in your decision. Some firms will continue to offer funding for candidates who are training with them so you should again conduct some research into how your shortlisted firms are implementing the SQE or, alternatively, whether they’re continuing to recruit LPC candidates during the transition period.
Length of study
This might be an important factor depending on a candidate’s particular circumstance. While the SQE preparation courses are shorter than the LPC, aspiring solicitors will still be required to complete two years’ QWE or a training contract.
If you can join a firm that is willing to reduce your training period based on QWE you’ve built up over the years, the SQE is likely to be a quicker way to qualify. Otherwise, it is worth considering the other factors addressed in this article to help you with your decision. Both the SQE and LPC are available to study flexibly, which might suit those changing careers or with caring responsibilities.
Is the SQE harder than the LPC?
Looking at the most recent pass rates for both the SQE and LPC, there’s not much in it at the moment. In January 2022, the SRA revealed a 53% pass rate for the first SQE1 sitting which took place in November 2021, and a 57.7% pass rate for the LPC in 2019/20.
If you choose the SQE, although not required, you should complete an appropriate SQE preparation course to give yourself the best chance of passing the assessments. With the LPC, as you likely know, the study and exams are incorporated into the programme so there’s no need to do any additional preparation.
Talk to your university’s careers adviser, as well as the advisers and employability teams at the institutions you’re considering for the SQE or LPC. There are lots of candidates in a similar position to you and while it’s sometimes easier to not have to make a decision, if you’re eligible to choose which route you take to qualify (ie, LPC or SQE) make sure you do so with some understanding and awareness of what’s to come.
Olivia Partridge is the content producer at LawCareers.Net.