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How will the SQE impact training contracts?

updated on 29 November 2022

Dear Oracle

I’m qualifying via the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), can I still do a training contract? How else can I complete my training/qualifying work experience (QWE)?

The Oracle replies

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This is the question we were all asking when the introduction of the SQE was first announced, and it’s one that we were unable to clearly answer for some time. Now that more and more firms are revealing their plans to adopt the SQE, the way that the SQE will, or won’t, impact training contracts has become clearer.

As you might know, there are various requirements to qualifying via the SQE – one of which is completing two years’ QWE. While this change aims to offer greater flexibility to aspiring lawyers – that is, QWE can be completed in up to four organisations, rather than one law firm (ie, a formalised training contract), and can be taken before, during and/or after completing both assessments – many firms will still require their trainees to complete a traditional two-year training contract with them. That’s not to say there aren’t other ways to gain your two years’ QWE – read this short guide to find out how the SQE might impact the way you train.

Traditional training contract

This will work in very much the same way that it has previously. You’ll apply for training contracts with your shortlisted firms; once accepted, you’ll likely have to complete SQE1 prior to starting your training contract with the firm – this is dependent on individual firms, with some requiring trainees to complete SQE2 ahead of the training contract too. You’ll receive funding for the SQE from the firm you’re completing the training contract with and will be paid a trainee salary. In this sense, the way that future lawyers are trained will remain the same at many firms – minus the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

If you’ve already accumulated a chunk of the two years’ QWE required to qualify (eg, through working as a paralegal), some firms might have systems in place that mean the period of training you’re required to do at the firm can be shortened. However, this is not the case for every firm, meaning it’s likely you’ll still have to do the full two-year training contract in most instances.

Like with the LPC, the law firm’s partnership with their chosen law school will determine which law school you complete your SQE preparation with. While SQE preparation isn’t required, if you’ve secured a training contract with a firm, they’ll most likely require you to do a preparation course with their chosen provider before you start – the course selected will also vary depending on whether you’re a law or non-law graduate.

It’s important to note here, that unlike the LPC (which is a course, followed by exams), the SQE is just a series of assessments and the SQE preparation courses have been designed by education providers to ensure that aspiring lawyers have the best chance of passing the SQE assessments. Lots of firms will require their future trainees to complete SQE preparation ahead of completing the assessments in the same way you’d have had to complete the modules on the LPC before taking the exam.

Read our ‘guide to SQE preparation courses’ for more information on the SQE courses available.

Graduate solicitor apprenticeship

Despite the introduction of the SQE, the traditional training contract remains the go-to training method for many law firms. That said, some firms have replaced their traditional training contracts with graduate solicitor apprenticeships. While the name of this training method has changed, the structure of it appears to work in a very similar way to the training contract.

For example, Hill Dickinson LLP partnered with The University of Law to launch its graduate solicitor apprenticeship which will replace its training contract. It will see its future lawyers study and sit SQE1 alongside completing a tailored, sector-focused Hill Dickinson Plus programme, which has been designed to prepare the apprentices for working at the firm. Following the completion of SQE1 and the plus programme, the apprentices will join the firm and get ready to take SQE2 while they’re completing their two-years’ QWE. Apprentices will be paid on the job, much like trainees. The salary will vary between firms depending on size and location, so check with individual firms for salary information.  

SQE apprenticeships for those who’ve not attended university are also a viable alternative.

Interested in finding out more about legal apprenticeships? Read the Law Apprenticeships Guide.

QWE as intended

The QWE element of the SQE was designed to offer increased flexibility to candidates so they can gain experience in multiple organisations, rather than just one (like the traditional training contract). As such, those employed as paralegals will be able to record the work they’re undertaking, or have undertaken, to count towards the two-years QWE requirement.

Read ‘What counts as QWE?’ for more information on the type of work you can undertake and ‘How do I get my QWE accredited?’ for advice on how to record it.

The flexibility here makes becoming a solicitor for these candidates much more accessible, and also offers the chance for those of you who have completed paralegal work, or similar, in the past to record this as QWE. If you choose to acquire QWE like this, a training contract isn’t required but it’s likely you’ll have to fund the SQE preparation and assessments yourself, which is something to bear in mind.

In short

So, in answer to your question – no, you don’t have to secure a training contract to qualify as a solicitor via the SQE. In fact, the SQE opens a host of avenues to explore in terms of the way you train and build up your QWE. Do your research and pick the one that suits you and your circumstances.  

Still have questions about the SQE and QWE? Head to LawCareers.Net’s SQE hub, sponsored by The University of Law, for all the latest updates and advice on the new route to qualifying.