Magic circle firms have differing approaches to SQE retakes

updated on 03 April 2024

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Magic circle law firms are taking different approaches to their trainees’ Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) exam results, following the recent round of results released for those who took the SQE1 assessment in January.

While both Clifford Chance and Slaughter and May have reportedly rescinded training contract offers from trainees who failed SQE1 on their first attempt, Linklaters LLP is understood to be allowing resits – a continuation of the firm’s policy for the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

Meanwhile, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP is offering resits to some trainees, although allegedly it’s also rescinded some offers, as reported by The Lawyer.

Craig Montgomery, partner and training principal at Freshfields, comments: “We recognise that the SQE is a new and challenging assessment regime and we are pleased with the firm’s high pass rates.

“While we reserve the right to withdraw offers if assessments are not passed, we consider all circumstances and speak to the individuals before coming to a decision. To date, we have allowed resits in almost all cases, and have provided additional financial support, as well as covering all exam fees.

“We will continue to keep this policy under review and remain committed to investing in our carefully-selected future talent.”

Speaking on Slaughter and May’s policy, a spokesperson says: “We don’t comment on individual situations, but each instance is assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

Outside of the magic circle, other firms are equally divided in their approach to the SQE. Some firms, like Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, are funding their trainees’ SQE1 resits. In the past, it was common practice for firms to rescind offers after a first failed attempt at the LPC. In keeping with this, CMS has “withdrawn certain training contract offers”.

A CMS spokesperson explains: “While we hold the expectation for successful completion of the SQE examinations on the first attempt, we understand that occasional setbacks may occur. Considering the recent SQE1 results, we have regretfully withdrawn certain training contract offers. However, we have diligently evaluated each circumstance individually."

With law firms seemingly split on the issue, it remains to be seen whether a profession-wide consensus on SQE resits will be reached at this stage. The pass rate for last July’s SQE1 assessments was 53% for FLK (functional learning knowledge) 1 and 52% for FLK 2 − this is lower than the average pass rate for the LPC, which the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) put at around 58%.  A statistical report for January’s SQE1 results is set to be published by the SRA in April.

With headlines across the legal press and social media regarding the SQE results and resit policies, it’s been a bumpy start to the introduction of the new route to qualification. In 2023 the City of London Law Society issued a warning about the SQE: that rescinding offers could result in negative publicity, “which could be felt through the next years”.