updated on 18 October 2022
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The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) was introduced in September 2021, but the ‘traditional’ route to qualifying as a solicitor (a law degree or law conversion, followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC)) will remain valid until 2032 for those who meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA’s) transitional arrangements.
The questions for these candidates who are applying for training contracts starting in 2023 (or earlier), are which route do law firms prefer and when are firms all switching to SQE?
Apply for a training contract before starting the LPC or SQE
LawCareers.Net’s first advice is, if you’re eligible, to apply for training contracts before you commit to either the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), LPC or an SQE preparation course. Securing a training contract in advance eliminates the risk involved in taking these vocational courses without a guaranteed job at the end of them. It’s also likely that your employer will sponsor the cost of your postgraduate training, whether it’s the GDL and LPC, or the SQE route, saving you thousands of pounds.
Read more about your funding options for the SQE via this Oracle.
Some law firms – as well as future lawyers – are continuing with the traditional LPC route in 2022 to avoid being ‘guinea pigs’ for the new SQE system going through its first-ever year of exams.
You can read more about the pass rate for the first SQE1 exams in LCN's News.
In contrast, the LPC is a qualification familiar to all law firms and the route is well established. For this reason, candidates who applied for training contracts in 2022 may have been encouraged by their future firms towards the LPC.
However, all law firms will have to adopt the SQE eventually, so this situation will change. In more recent months, many firms have started to reveal their plans as they begin to amend their current training route with lots of firms taking on SQE trainees in their 2024 trainee cohort.
You can visit individual firm directory pages on LCN to read about their plans for adopting the SQE.
Some firms will continue to offer the traditional training contract, which will form part of a candidate’s qualifying work experience (QWE), while they study for SQE1 and SQE2. For example, future trainees at RPC will complete the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (for non-law candidates) and the Masters in Legal Practice at The University of Law. Candidates will have to complete and pass SQE1 and SQE2 before starting their training contract with the firm.
Find out more about The University of Law's SQE, LPC and law conversion courses today:
Meanwhile, Cripps Pemberton Greenish appointed BPP University to deliver its SQE preparation courses to Cripps trainees. Similar to RPC, trainee solicitors joining the firm in 2024 will be preparing to take the SQE through courses provided by BPP, including the school’s new Essentials for Practice course.
Mills & Reeve LLP has taken a similar approach – its 2024 intake will receive funding to qualify via the SQE route, with non-law graduates required to take a law conversion before embarking on SQE prep courses.
Charles Russell Speechlys LLP outlined its approach via its LCN profile, which mirrors the above and includes non-law grads taking the post-graduate diploma in law (sponsored by the firm). On completion of a law degree/law conversion, candidates will study for SQE1 and SQE2 (sponsored by the firm). Once passed, candidates will join the firm for two years of QWE.
The City Consortium, which includes Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Linklaters LLP, introduced the SQE from September 2022, with all future trainees taking the City Consortium training programme to prepare them for the SQE assessments and a career at a City law firm.
Meanwhile, the graduate solicitor apprenticeship is another alternative way firms might adopt the SQE – Hill Dickinson LLP launched its graduate solicitor apprenticeship earlier this year to replace the firm’s traditional training model.
Find out more about how Hill Dickinson’s graduate solicitor apprenticeship will work via LCN’s News.
Find out more about the QWE element to the SQE in the following articles:
SQE or LPC/GDL for non-law graduates
Unless you’re a non-law graduate who started an LPC or GDL before 31 December 2021, you will need to qualify as a solicitor via the SQE.
You can find out more about non-law students, law conversion courses and the SQE by reading ‘Non-law students: SQE and law conversion courses’.
One area where the SQE potentially has the edge over the LPC is cost. The cost for sitting the SQE exams amounts to £3,980, which is broken down into £1,558 for SQE1 and £2,422 for SQE2. However, prices for the SQE preparation courses, which all aspiring lawyers are encouraged to complete to set them up to pass the SQE, vary in price depending on the provider.
Want to compare a list of SQE prep courses? Read LCN’s guide to SQE preparation courses for details on cost, content, location and more.
Meanwhile, the LPC can cost as much as £17,500. However, some of the more extensive SQE preparation courses offered by law schools are closer in cost to the LPC.
But bear in mind our earlier advice; applying for a training contract in advance can get you access to sponsorship, alleviating the financial concerns around these courses.
Who should take the SQE?
The SQE is now the central route to qualifying as a solicitor. Candidates that meet the SRA’s transitional arrangements, and so have a choice, should weigh up the pros and cons of both the SQE and LPC.
Check to see what your shortlisted firms are doing in this regard. Whichever route you choose, you should ideally be on course for a 2.1 (or higher) and be building up work experience and/or extracurricular achievements to support your application for a training contract.