A career in Law - How do I become a solicitor?
From November 2021, Solicitors’ Qualifying Examinations (SQE), are the centralised assessments that a person is required to pass, should they wish to become a solicitor in England and Wales. The exams are set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) rather than by universities, which is a significant change from the traditional LPC/training contract route to qualification we’ve had in the past. Although the customary route is still available for some students to take, SQE offers new sets of advantages you may want to consider before making a decision.
Do I need a Law Degree to become a Solicitor in England and Wales?
First of the significant changes is that under the SQE route you no longer need a law degree to become a solicitor. In fact, any UK degree or equivalent will do, so long as you pass the SQE.
In principle, you can think of it as obtaining a driving licence. As long as you can prove your knowledge of the Highway Code and demonstrate ability to successfully apply it while operating a vehicle, you’re good to go. There is no need to attend a driving school, complete certain amount of driving hours, sit in lectures or pass additional exams like first aid.
In theory, you do not need to do any preparation before taking the SQE, which differs significantly from the year-long course that is still required for the LPC route. However due to the practical nature of the content it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to learn simply from reading books, particularly if you do not have a law degree to start with. This is why most people undertaking SQE will consider some form of preparatory course such as Coventry University’s LLM Professional Legal Practice or PGDip Understanding Legal Practice.
What is qualifying work experience (QWE) for SQE?
Another difference between LPC and SQE route is the practical experience required. LPC graduates still need a formal training contract. This is normally with a single firm and can be thought of like an apprenticeship. You will receive on the job training that is overseen by a senior member, or members, of the firm. You will experience at least three areas of practice whilst undertaking a training contract, however in bigger firms, you may work in up to eight. These are known as seats. Sometimes the firm will dictate your seats whereas in others, you may be given some choice.
If you go down the SQE route you only need 2 years of relevant full-time work experience. How you obtain this is much more flexible than the formal training contract. You can undertake your qualifying work experience with up to four providers, which means that you potentially get to experience different types of legal settings whilst you accumulate your work experience. You also do not need to undertake you QWE in a 2-year block. You can start acquiring QWE whilst undertaking your degree which means that to qualify under the SQE route may be quicker than through an LPC and training contract.
Why was SQE introduced?
The SQE was introduced for a variety of different reasons.
- Consistency - The SQE means that all aspiring solicitors will sit the same examination and will therefore be assessed to the same standard.
- More efficiency and cost reduction - The SQE has the potential to save a student money, particularly now that there is greater flexibility in how you prepare for the SQE assessments.
- Accessibility - The SQE route may improve accessibility in contrast to the highly competitive training contract which has been replaced by qualifying work experience. It allows a person to acquire relevant experience from different firms, and different types of work at different times, even before they earn a degree.
Will SQE completely replace LPC?
The reality is that LPC will soon become out of date. When the SQE was introduced in November 2021, the regulations included a transitional period when anyone already studying for a law degree could opt to either go the old LPC/training contract route or take the new Solicitors Qualifying Examinations. However, you needed to have begun your Law degree by that date, so in reality only graduates who have already completed degrees, or will graduate before the end of 2023, still have that choice. The LPC route will be phased completely after that and the only way to qualify as a Solicitor in England and Wales will be via the SQE.
If you would like to know more about what constitutes SQE, how to prepare for SQE as well as some pitfalls students can face, read our Understanding SQE post.