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LCN Says

How to pass the SQE

updated on 05 July 2021

From 1 September 2021 the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will be the new way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. It is a hot topic and can be overwhelming to get your head around what it covers and how it works. There is so much information available and so much flexibility as to how to study for it that it can be quite confusing.

The SQE is heavily based on the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), which is the exam foreign jurisdiction lawyers must pass to successfully qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales.

My name is Neeta Halai and I am a qualified solicitor, author and owner of New Heights Training. I work with lawyers worldwide, coaching and training them on legal and communication skills.

I have coached and trained hundreds of international lawyers, from six of the seven continents, for the QLTS. As the QLTS mirrors the SQE I believe my knowledge and insight together with practical advice and guidance will also help those who do the SQE. There are many common challenges identified and my tips and tools on how to overcome them will equally help those doing the SQE. My expertise goes some way to explain how I came to write a book on it called Skilfully Passing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The aim is to move you from uncertainty and lack of knowledge and skills to a place of certainty, clarity and confidence about the SQE.

I hold seminars on the QLTS and SQE through Eventbrite which can help you to understand what the assessments involve and highlight the similarities and differences. You can also join LinkedIn Groups called SQE Success or QLTS Success to keep up with the key issues shared by those preparing for the exam.

The SQE is new but not really ‘new’

If you are worried about being the first to take part in the SQE you can take some comfort from the fact that it is based on a tried and tested format that works based on the QLTS. So, although it is the centralised new way to qualify as a solicitor, the SRA has seen that the format it is based on does already work.

Below I will share my opinion on some common questions.

What does the SQE exam include?

The SQE is classed as one exam but split into two parts.

SQE1: Functional Legal Knowledge (FLK) Assessments

The focus is on the law tested through 360 multiple-choice questions split over two days. You are assessed only on the law.

This part is more straightforward in terms of preparation because you learn the law, understand it and apply it to multiple-choice questions; a tangible approach. You learn all the law upfront; so think of it as the substantive (LLB/GDL) and procedural (LPC) subjects all combined.

SQE2: Practical Legal Skills (PLS) Assessments

The focus is on how you deliver your knowledge of the law in 16 assessments using your oral and written communication skills – more specifically, the assessments will be split into four oral legal skills assessments and 12 written legal skills assessments. You are assessed equally on the law and skills.

This is the practical part where you do not need to learn any ‘new’ law but the focus is on the procedural law subjects (like in the LPC). You use your knowledge of the law in a more advisory way for example write a client letter, do a client interview and an advocacy submission.

From my experience of working with QLTS lawyers many find this equivalent part more challenging than the first because they underestimate the importance of their communication skills. This is often because skills are intangible so harder to measure without expert help.

Mastering legal and communication skills can take longer than learning the law because this focuses on the quality of what you say and how it is delivered. This means practising and fine-tuning skills that may not come to you naturally can take longer to learn.

For example, in client interviewing (an oral assessment) two of the many skills you have to demonstrate within a legal context are:

  • building trust and confidence; and
  • listening and questioning;

These may seem straightforward and easy. However, it is these very skills that many experienced QLTS lawyers find challenging. For example, they:

  • try to make small talk ‘formally’ so it comes across as unnatural;
  • do not show empathy or lack emotional intelligence when it is required;
  • find it hard to think of questions without making assumptions; and
  • use legal jargon instead of plain English – alienating the client.

There are many common challenges for all the assessments that will equally apply to the SQE.

How hard will the SQE be?

That really depends on each individual’s perspective. It is designed to be fair and consistent for everyone to meet the standard of a newly qualified solicitor (it is higher than traditional routes to qualification).

There are many flexible ways to study for the SQE, so you need to ensure you choose a way that works best for you and meets the standard required.

Do I have a better chance of passing SQE2 after completing the qualifying work experience (QWE)?

You can do the SQE2 at any time; with or without any legal work experience. However, logically it makes sense to have some good-quality QWE which would benefit you from a skills perspective and boost your confidence.

A lot will depend on where you work. Some City firms will want you to complete both parts before starting work and others will prefer you to have some work experience. There is no set right or wrong approach.

A key thing to remember is many say the law can be ‘crammed’ for an exam but skills do take time to develop.

Neeta Halai is a qualified solicitor, author and the owner of New Heights Training. If you want to find out more about the SQE you can download free samples of Skilfully Passing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) from the New Heights Training website or connect with Neeta via LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

If you want to purchase a copy of the SQE book you can use this exclusive 10% discount code SQELCN10 including free postage and packaging on the Bloomsbury website.