SQE Update – June 2020

This bulletin covers our Board’s decision on the SQE final design, the SQE2 pilot findings, transitional arrangements for existing students, graduates and trainees and our upcoming webinars.

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Final SQE design and introduction date

Last week our Board agreed on the final design of the new SQE and its introduction date (subject to the Legal Services Board approval). This means anyone looking to become a solicitor after 1 September 2021 will need to:

  • have a degree in any subject (or equivalent qualification or experience)
  • pass two stages of SQE assessment: SQE1 will test functioning legal knowledge across 13 areas of law; SQE2 will test practical legal skills, including legal research, writing, advocacy, client interviewing and case analysis, through at least 15 assessed tasks.
  • gain two years’ qualifying work experience that must be signed off by a solicitor
  • meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements

The decision on the final design follows a nine-year review of solicitors’ training. In the last 18 months we have worked with our assessment provider Kaplan to refine the detail of the assessments through piloting, engagement, expert input and independent review. This has involved 13,000 engagements, including almost 300 meetings and events with a wide range of stakeholders. Learn more

Key changes to the SQE’s design

The design of the SQE was informed by expert input, independent review and two pilot exercises, involving more than 480 candidates, to test how the assessments work in practice.

Key changes that were made as a result of this process include:

  • changing SQE1 from three 120-question assessments to two assessments of 180 questions
  • focusing skills testing in SQE2, with SQE1 focused on assessing functioning legal knowledge
  • deciding that candidates will all take the same assessment for SQE2
  • making provision, on a phased basis, for the SQE to be available in Welsh as well as English.

The SQE1 and SQE2 pilot results coupled with data from the QLTS and input from our expert advisors mean that the SQE is on course to meet the rigorous, international standards expected of professional assessments - protecting consumers while being fair to candidates. Learn more

SQE2 pilot findings

We have published the results of a pilot to test the second part of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination - known as SQE2. This is the assessment that focuses on practical legal skills and involves both oral and written tasks. It tests legal research, legal writing, legal drafting, case and matter analysis, advocacy, client interviewing and attendance note/legal analysis. and requires both competent client handling and communication skills and the ability to apply legal knowledge accurately.

Learn more about the pilot results

Transitional arrangements for existing students, graduates and trainees

Our transitional arrangements are designed to give candidates who, by 1 September 2021, are already on their way to becoming a solicitor as much choice as possible.

This means someone who is already studying or training can choose to carry on qualify through the existing routes as long as they remain available or by doing the SQE.

These arrangements apply to anyone who, as at 1 September 2021, has completed, started, accepted an offer to start or paid a non-refundable deposit for one of the following:

  • a qualifying law degree (QLD)
  • the Common Professional Examination / Graduate Diploma in Law (CPE/GDL)
  • the Legal Practice Course
  • a period of recognised training (also known as a training contract).

Anyone who falls within this group will have until 31 December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor under the existing routes, as long as they remain available.

QLD and CPE courses will remain available for everyone up to and including academic year 2020/21. People who have accepted an offer to start in 2020/21 and defer to 2021/22 can continue on the QLD and CPD. Candidates who have accepted the offer of a period of recognised training before 1 September 2021 can also start a CPE in academic year 2021/22.

Find out more about what this means for students, graduates and trainees

Confirmed SQE assessment sittings and timings

We can now confirm the SQE assessment sittings and results timings to help both education providers and employers plan for the introduction of the SQE in 2021.

The first sitting of the SQE1 will be in November 2021, with the first SQE2 assessment taking place in April 2022.

Thank you to all those who talked to us about the timing of SQE assessments – in all more than 100 employers, education providers and potential candidates. In making the final decision, considered factors such as allowing enough time for booking assessments places and marking and analysis of results. Learn more about the timings

Get involved

SQE final design & SQE2 Assessment Specification (webinar, YouTube)

Want to know more about the final SQE design and SQE2 pilot findings? Find out what’s changed and how the improvements to the design were informed by expert input, independent review and the latest pilot results. You can also learn more about the draft SQE2 Assessment Specification which sets out the detail of the assessment tasks candidates will take and how you can give us your views on this.

  • When: 14.00 – 14.30 on 15 June 2020
  • Who: Julie Brannan, Director of Education and Training, SRA and Len South, Academic Director, Kaplan
  • Learn more and book now

SQE: opportunities for smaller businesses (webinar, YouTube)

Learn more how the introduction of the SQE will benefit smaller law firms, including how it can give you greater opportunity to recruit, train and develop your own future solicitors, while focussing their development more specifically on the areas of law you work in.

  • When: 13.00 – 13.20 on 8 July 2020
  • Who: Julie Brannan, Director of Education and Training, SRA
  • Learn more and book now

SQE: Risks and benefits to equality, diversity and inclusion (webinar, YouTube)

Hear about the benefits and risks to equality, diversity and inclusion that the new SQE assessments may bring, and planned mitigations to manage the risks. Learn more about what is in our draft Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Risk Assessment. Watch this previous webinar now

How the SQE will help firms recruit and train in the future

By Julie Brannan, Director of Education and Training

The introduction of the SQE will not only benefit aspiring solicitors of the future but will also help those who employ them.

SQE will give employers standardised information to help them compare candidates on a fair basis. The new solicitor apprenticeship routes provide funding to train school leavers and graduates. And SQE provides greater flexibility for law firms to recruit staff, including a career progression route for long standing employees who aspire to becoming a solicitor.

Recruiting the right people

The SQE offers a rigorous, consistent assessment for all intending solicitors, and of course ensuring high professional standards. We know that employers often use A level results to compare candidates, because that provides standardised information. However, A level results are probably many years old by the time firms come to recruit and they are not directly relevant to working as a solicitor.

Instead, once the SQE is introduced, firms can use SQE results to compare candidates. We will not award distinctions or commendations on the SQE – the assessment is simply pass/fail. However we will give candidates their marks, and we will provide contextual information (such as the distribution of marks across the assessment). And so employers can ask to see applicants’ SQE marks and relevant contextual information and take account of this information in their selection decisions.

Where you are recruiting a newly qualified solicitor, you will be able to ask to see all their SQE marks.

But even where you are appointing a paralegal or trainee solicitor, you could require completion of SQE1, and ask to see those results. SQE1 tests candidates’ ability to use their legal knowledge to identify relevant legal principles, apply them to factual scenarios, and reach decisions or advise clients. A core competence to check.

You may rightly also want to test an applicant’s ability to write or undertake basic legal research. The exact nature of skills here will vary from role to role and firm to firm and can be assessed through your own recruitment and selection processes. We will make sure, at a profession-wide level, that solicitors have demonstrated these skills at day-one solicitor level through SQE2.

Solicitor apprenticeships

The new solicitor apprenticeships provide an opportunity to recruit school leavers or graduates. For school leavers, the solicitor apprenticeship route lasts 5 – 6 years. For graduates the apprenticeship can cover training and assessment for SQE1, SQE2 and qualifying work experience.

The cost of training and assessment on the apprenticeship route is paid for from the apprenticeship levy. Employers with a payroll of less than £3m do not need to contribute to the levy. So this provides a potential income stream to support the cost of training solicitors of the future.

The number of apprentices is growing steadily. About 25 solicitor apprentices started in September 2016. There are now more than 500. Firms who have already recruited apprentices report that their apprentices acquire the skills they need surprisingly fast and that their apprentices are committed and loyal - there are lower levels of turnover than with other employees.

Recruitment flexibility

The Solicitor Apprenticeship is just one example of the greater flexibility which SQE heralds.

In future, your recruitment strategy might include a combination of trainees, apprentices and paralegals, giving you wider access to talent. SQE offers greater opportunity to combine earning and learning.

We are already seeing innovative training programmes including more online learning, which are able to respond to the pace and needs of individual learners. This sort of learning can open up pathways for your existing staff – paralegals, administrators, etc who aspire to becoming a solicitor.

Benefits to businesses of all sizes

The flexibility the SQE offers means that from the largest businesses to the smallest, from traditional law firms to public organisations, everyone has the chance to tailor their approach to recruiting, training and developing solicitors to best meet the needs of their business and customers.

Watch our SQE: opportunities for smaller businesses webinar to find out more.

Other ways to get involved

Join our LinkedIn reference group. It will help you keep up to date with the latest SQE developments and opportunities to get involved in our surveys and events.

If you are thinking about taking the SQE, or know someone who is, please follow Career in Law for the latest information aimed at aspiring solicitors.

If you have any questions, or want more information on how you can get involved, contact us.

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