SQE Update – March 2020

This bulletin covers changes to current course assessments due to coronavirus and our approach to assessing ethics under the SQE. We also tell you about the range of material on qualifying work experience, including common questions and how to let us know what extra support you need.

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Coronavirus – impact on courses, admission as a solicitor and the SQE

We recognise that students, trainees and law firms are concerned about the impact on their training and assessments.

Our aim is to help by being as flexible as possible in this area, while still making sure solicitors who qualify have met the required standard.

There is already flexibility in many areas of our training rules. For instance, trainees must be ‘appropriately supervised’ but we would accept firms putting in place sensible arrangements to do this remotely. Qualifying Law Degree (QLD) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) students must be assessed, but we do not specify the form that the assessments must take.

However, there were other areas where we have recognised the current exceptional circumstances could have significant implications. So, having listened to feedback, including from training providers, law firms and other groups, we are relaxing our current assessment requirements for all parts of the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

We have produced a Q&A to explain our approach to education and training, for areas such as the QLD, LPC, Professional Skills Course and periods of recognised training, read more.

In relation to the SQE, there is no indication that the implementation of the SQE will be affected. Transitional arrangements are in place for 11 years, so any delays for current students should not cause difficulties.

Qualifying work experience – common queries answered

We receive a lot of questions about qualifying work experience. Here are our answers to the three most common:

Will any work experience count?

Qualifying work experience must be providing real-life legal service in an environment where someone can develop the competences needed to be a solicitor. It can be done in England and Wales or abroad, through paid or voluntary work, face to face and using digital tools, such as video and virtual meetings, but not through a simulated legal services environment.

Is the SRA going to prescribe what is meant by full time or equivalent?

No, we expect employers to take a common-sense view of what they mean by full time. Qualifying work experience will need to correspond with two years in a full-time position in their organisation.

What exactly does being ‘signed off’ mean in practice?

A solicitor is confirming:

  • the period of the work experience that the aspiring solicitor has undertaken
  • that the work offered the opportunity to develop some or all of the competences for being a solicitor
  • there were no character and suitability issues during the work experience.

Learn more about qualifying work experience and see the webinar information below

In describing the programmes they plan to offer for academic year 2020/21 or 2021/22, universities may wish to make it clear whether their courses are dependent on the introduction of the SQE and that this is subject to final regulatory approval. The LSB decision is expected before the end of this year.

We will continue to work closely with universities and training providers as we move towards the implementation of the SQE.

SQE Briefing now available in Welsh

Last month we published a document that offers a summary of our approach on the SQE, from its early inception back in 2013 through to where we currently are. This is now also available in the Welsh language.

Learn more and read our Welsh version

Find out more on our YouTube channel

You’ll find a range of SQE videos on our YouTube channel: from webinars on topics such as the assessment specification and our approach to assessing skills to presentations at various events.

Take a look at our SQE videos

Get involved

Qualifying work experience – watch our webinar and tell us what you think

Do you need more information about signing off qualifying work experience? Do you want to know what qualifying work experience covers?

We recently ran a webinar to help people learn more. Watch it now

We also wanted to give you the opportunity to feedback and help us develop supporting resources. Tell us what more information and resources would be useful to employers and people who advise candidates. Take our survey now

Taking the right approach to assessing ethics

by Julie Brannan, Director of Education and Training

We need to make sure that qualifying solicitors understand the high ethical standards expected of them and what that means in practice. This is fundamental to public trust in the profession.

So ethical questions will pervade both SQE1 and SQE2. They will not be flagged as ethical questions – we want to check that candidates are able to spot ethical situations as they arise. This better mirrors what happens in practice - knotty issues are not signalled with an ethics klaxon.

The SQE is an overall assessment of competence. To qualify you need to pass SQE1 (including the two separate papers on functioning legal knowledge) and SQE2. However, we do not require candidates to pass each legal topic separately.

We have to make sure that we address any risk of compensation - ie that candidates do very well in some parts of the assessment, and that gets them over-the-line even if they perform poorly in other areas.

Our analysis through the SQE1 pilot, and the results of other similar assessments, is that there appears to be a high correlation of performance across all subject areas. This is not to say compensation absolutely won’t happen in some cases, but it is unlikely to be significant. We will continue to look at the evidence in this area, including the results of our recent SQE2 pilot.

Some people have suggested that we should consider a stand-alone ethics exam, or only pass candidates who have done well enough on ethics questions. I can see the strength of the argument for making ethics a special case given how important it is.

Such an approach, however, would have implications. You would need enough questions to make fair and reliable pass/fail decisions. This would of course mean a far lengthier assessment which would increase the costs of the SQE significantly. It is also debatable whether you could create such a sufficiently diverse and large enough bank of specific and robust ethical questions.

On balance, we think spreading ethical questions across both assessments is the best approach. Candidates will need to learn how to spot and address these issues.

It is also worth remembering that all candidates will need to complete two years qualifying work experience (QWE), where we would expect them to learn about practical ethical issues in the work of a solicitor. The solicitor signing off successful completion of QWE must declare to us that no ethical arose which raises any question about the candidate’s suitability to be a solicitor. Candidates will separately have to meet our character and suitability requirements.

Ethics is such an important area that we need to be sure we assess it appropriately. So we will be keeping our approach under close review.

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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