New ‘super exam’ for qualifying solicitors confirmed for 2020 – with LPC no longer a requirement
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The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has officially confirmed its shake-up of the route to becoming a solicitor with a new ‘super exam’ which all prospective solicitors will have to pass in order to qualify.
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is to be introduced in 2020, not 2019 as was originally intended. All students and trainee solicitors will still be able to qualify by the current route in the meantime, while those who commence training just before or at the point at which the SQE is introduced will also be able to continue on and qualify through the traditional route. All those who begin legal education and training once the SQE has been introduced will then have to train under the new system and pass the SQE.
The requirements for law graduates to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and for non-law graduates to first study the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) will be dropped under the new system. Instead it will be necessary to:
- have a degree, equivalent qualification or equivalent work experience;
- complete SQE stages 1 and 2;
- complete two years’ worth of qualifying work experience; and
- like the old system, pass a character and suitability assessment.
SQE stage 1 will incorporate six knowledge assessments and one practical skills assessment. The SRA has said that some universities may incorporate SQE stage 1 into their law degree programmes and that it will be possible to complete stage 1 before undertaking the two-year period of qualifying work experience.
SQE stage 2 will comprise of practical skills assessments in areas such as legal research, advocacy and interviewing, similar to the content of the LPC.
The period of qualifying work experience has also been made more flexible than the traditional training contract model. Training contracts as they exist now will still be a valid way of gaining the experience required to qualify, but this experience may also be gained in other ways – and not necessarily all at once. For example, a sandwiched law degree involving a year of work experience may count towards the two-year requirement. It will also no longer be necessary for candidates to experience working in both a contentious and non-contentious area of law, although both types will still be tested under the SQE.
The SRA’s plan has been subject to much criticism, not least from individual academics and practitioners, and course providers including the University of Law and BPP. In the SRA’s consultation, 60% of respondents disagreed with the SRA’s proposal that the SQE would be an effective measure of competence – including 70% of the law firms consulted. Nonetheless Crispin Passmore, the SRA’s executive director, said that “popularity is never the objective of a regulator”. He maintained that the SRA’s consultation had taken important concerns into account and that the SQE will be fit for purpose.
We will provide more in-depth information about the SQE in the coming weeks. In the meantime, students and trainees can relax in the knowledge that the current arrangements will continue to be in place for some years yet.