SQE prep alone isn’t enough, say law firms

updated on 16 May 2023

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Exclusive research has revealed that the majority of law firms feel the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is failing to prepare aspiring lawyers for legal practice.

A recent survey, conducted by The University of Law in collaboration with Legal Cheek, revealed that 63% of City firms will now require future trainees to complete both SQE preparation and practice area-focused modules. More than half (52%) require skills-focused courses and expect SQE preparation to be undertaken as part of a legal master’s programme.

A key concern among firms is that the SQE qualification route doesn’t cover enough ground for aspiring solicitors. In fact, only 19% of respondents felt passing the SQE1 and SQE2 exams would be sufficient preparation for students to begin their training. Firms feel as though students will need a more thorough and in-depth course to fully prepare them for their training contracts or qualifying work experience (QWE).

The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) has stated that its role is to determine the minimum requirements for someone to be suitable for qualification as a solicitor, stating that the SQE is simply a “foundation to build upon”.

Julie Brannan, director of legal education and training at the SRA, said that the SQE gives firms greater flexibility and “more freedom to provide bespoke training that meets the needs of their business”.

This sentiment has been echoed by Llyod Stephenson, head of resourcing at Ashurst LLP, who feels that the added flexibility of the SQE route allows the firm “to shape and adapt the training for our emerging talent”.

Several City law firms are planning to offer trainees ‘top-up courses’ to supplement the knowledge aspiring solicitors will need to train at the firm, in addition to the knowledge needed to successfully complete the SRA’s centralised assessments. The exact content of these courses will be dependent on the specific requirements of the training firm, with focus areas varying from tech and broader business skills to specific practice areas.

To learn more about the specific practice areas, check out our Practice Area Profiles.

Robert Halton, chief people officer at Burges Salmon LLP, suggested areas he believes commercial law firms should have in their courses include:

  • “understanding the business needs of clients”;
  • “managing legal projects”; and
  • “the role and application of technology”.

Halton Labelled each of these areas as “critical skills” for lawyers that “go beyond the core areas that the SRA identified”.

While the timeline for when these bespoke courses will be available for candidates is unclear, it’s been suggested that utilising the six to 10 weeks wait between completing the SQE1 and the results being released could be the perfect window.