I employ solicitors

25 April 2019

This information is for law firms and organisations that employ solicitors. It will help you understand more about the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) and how you can get ready for its introduction.

What is the SQE?

A single, national licensing examination that all prospective solicitors will take before qualifying. From autumn 2021, to qualify candidates will need to:

  • have a degree in any subject (or equivalent qualification or work experience)
  • pass both stages of the SQE assessment – SQE 1 focuses on legal knowledge and SQE 2 on practical legal skills
  • have 2 years' qualifying work experience
  • pass our character and suitability requirements.

The assessments

SQE 1 (Functioning Legal Knowledge and Practical Legal Skills Assessments)

Candidates will be tested on:

  • substantive and procedural law and cover core subjects currently taught on LLB and LPC courses
  • application of fundamental legal principles
  • legal research and writing skills.

SQE 2 (Practical Legal Skills Assessments)

Candidates will be tested on:

  • client interviewing
  • advocacy
  • case and matter analysis
  • legal research and written advice
  • legal drafting.

Timings

The SQE will be introduced in autumn 2021 and initially there will be two exam sittings per year. The first sitting for SQE 1 is likely to be in November 2021.

You will only be able to take SQE 2 after passing SQE 1.

Sitting the SQE

The SQE will be available to sit in England and Wales, as well as some international locations (SQE 1 only).

SQE 1 includes three exams that are either multiple choice or written tests. All three must be sat together. This will available to take across a wide geographic area at Pearson VUE centres.

For SQE 2, the candidate will do role plays, as well as written work. There will be a more limited choice of centres for this assessment.

Cost / fees

Current estimates are that it will cost between £3,000 - £4,500 to sit the SQE. This breaks down as:

  • SQE 1: £1,100 – £1,650
  • SQE 2: £1,900 - £2,850

These fees are not finalised yet and the eventual cost may be inside or outside this range. This does not include any additional training you might need.

Resits

Candidates are only allowed three attempts at the assessment. These have to be taken within six years.

SQE update 2019: Julie Brannan and Paul Carter

Here's what your firm or organisation could be thinking about now ahead of the SQE's introduction:

Recruitment

  • Selection: standardised SQE performance data will be available on all candidates. What does that mean for where you recruit from?
  • Workforce profile: greater flexibility about how to qualify as a solicitor (paralegals, trainees, apprentices). What does that mean for who you recruit?
  • Timing: transition means a mix of people with the LPC and the SQE. Do you wish to recruit people with one qualification or the other, or to have a mixture?

Training strategy

  • More flexibility as candidates no longer need seat rotations.
  • Training focused on competences in our Statement of Solicitor Competence.
  • Are there particular specialist knowledge/skills which you want your future solicitors to have?
  • Are there opportunities to collaborate with other law firms/training providers?

What is qualifying work experience?

All candidates will need to complete at least two-years full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience. This is the work experience part of qualifying as a solicitor after autumn 2021.

We will not prescribe what full time (or equivalent) means. We expect employers to take a common-sense view of what they mean by full time.

What counts?

Qualifying work experience is any experience of providing legal services that offers the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge needed practice as a solicitor.

It focuses on the competencies needed, rather than specifying practice areas or what number of seats a candidate needs to do. This will allow firms to tailor their training without unnecessary regulatory interference.

It can be gained in one block of time or in stages (in up to four organisations). It can be paid or unpaid and could include time spent:

  • on placement during a law degree
  • on a vacation scheme
  • working as a paralegal
  • on a training contract.

Candidates can gain experience during or after they sit the SQE assessments. However, it must be completed by the time they apply for admission. They could even start gaining the necessary experience now and 'banking' it for when SQE comes in autumn 2021.

Signing off work experience

Qualifying work experience must be signed off by a solicitor, but they do not have to hold a practising certificate.

In a law firm this will be the compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) or another solicitor. There will no longer be a need for a Training Principal role.

In other organisations, it will be a solicitor who works there or one that is willing to sign off the experience and has direct experience of the candidate's work.

What are they signing off?

For each placement, the following must be signed off:

  • the details of the work experience carried out
  • that it provided the opportunity to develop some or all of the prescribed competences for solicitors
  • that no issues arose during the work experience that raise questions over the candidate's character and suitability to be admitted as a solicitor.

The solicitor signing off qualifying work experience confirms that the candidate has had opportunity to develop some or all of the prescribed competencies needed, not whether they have met them. This will be assessed by the SQE.

Tips for employers

You may want to think about:

  • Take advantage of the new flexibility – this could be an opportunity for you to offer work experience where you might not currently be able to provide a full training contract.
  • Qualifying work experience means you can recruit through lots of different routes – align it with your business objectives.
  • How you align qualifying work experience with our requirement to supervise staff effectively. This could be through:
    • regular 121s
    • opportunities to ask questions
    • learn from more experienced solicitors
    • feedback and reviews of work.

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