Bosses at Linklaters and BarBri disagree about difficulty of SQE

updated on 01 November 2019

The first part of the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) – a series of online multiple-choice exams testing legal knowledge – is likely to be too difficult with fail rates higher than the current LPC system, says Patrick McCann, global head of learning at Linklaters LLP.

Speaking to the Law Society Gazette, McCann commented that the new SQE1 exam will be based on the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme which has a fail rate of around 50%. The first part of the super exam that all students will need to take in order to qualify will involve answering multiple choice questions on legal case studies, with students having less than two minutes to answer each one.

McCann described the questions as “frightening” and noted that the questions had already been described as difficult by education experts. He also expressed concern that a high fail rate could disrupt City firms’ trainee recruitment, with most firms recruiting two years in advance for a set number of trainee places.

Meanwhile, Sarah Hutchinson, managing director of legal education provider BarBri, attempted to alleviate worries about the SQE, explaining to Legal Cheek: “Typically when a new exam is introduced, you would expect the examiner to give the benefit of the doubt to the students and it is not in the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s best interests to produce dramatic fail rates. After all, they want the SQE to succeed.”

BarBri will be launching its own SQE preparation course ahead of the exam’s introduction in September 2021.

Responding to McCann’s comments, Hutchinson agreed that the SQE1 will be demanding as it “is a final test on ‘everything’”. However, she went on to say that “the market will adjust to whatever syllabus and assessment methodology deployed, and we will reach an equilibrium that will be sufficiently demanding for practice but fair to the students”.