To qualify under the SQE system you must have a university degree (law or non-law), pass both SQE stages, have two years’ qualifying legal experience (QLE), and pass the SRA’s character and suitability assessment.
After completing a university degree, candidates take the SQE1 exams. SQE1 exams are a series of exams and so candidates are expected to undertake an SQE1 preparation course in order to pass those exams. That being said, some universities are planning to incorporate the SQE1 preparation into the LLB, which means that students will be prepared to take the SQE1 exams upon graduation.
SQE2 exams are taken after the SQE1 exams, but the two years’ work experience can be undertaken at any time before or after the SQE. This is to add flexibility and make the process more inclusive. For example, if a candidate works as a paralegal for three months during a summer break, this may count towards their 2-year required experience. How this will work in practice is yet to be seen, as some firms are insistent that the candidate train with them for two years similar to the existing mode. Time will tell whether they will adapt to the new circumstances.
Once a candidate passes the SQE1 exams, they have 6 years to complete the 2-years’ experience as well as pass the SQE2 exam. SQE exams can be retaken twice at most, meaning that there are three possible attempts. If they take longer than 6 years, they must start again. Once you pass SQE1 and SQE2 and complete 2 years of QLE experience, you are a qualified solicitor.
What is in the SQE exam?
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam is in line with the SRA’s Statement of Legal Knowledge, which pertains to the technical knowledge that solicitors must have, and their Statement of Legal Competence, which pertains to the ethics and skills expected of solicitors.
The SQE will cover a wide variety of topics, all of which however are expected. They are: criminal litigation; criminal law and evidence; contract law; property; torts; trusts and equitable wrongs; taxation; wills and administration of estates; ethics, professional conduct and regulation; law of organisations; constitutional law and EU law (including human rights); legal system of England and Wales; and civil litigation.
SQE1 bridges the gap between the LPC and the law degree. It contains the seven (or six, if EU is not to be confirmed) “foundations of legal knowledge”. However, the key aspect is applying the knowledge of these foundations in real life professional situations. The idea is of course to better prepare students for real working situations. The assessments are called “functional legal knowledge”.
Of the above mentioned topics, the following is included in SQE1: criminal law; property law; wills and the administration of estates and trusts; commercial and corporate law; public and administrative law, and the legal systems of England and Wales; dispute resolution in contract or tort; principles of professional conduct; and legal research and writing (the only practical element of stage one).
There are two exams: the first is a three-hour written exam with 160 MCQs (multiple choice questions). The first exam focuses on legal knowledge and real-life application, whereas the second exam pertains to research skills and writing ability.
SQE2 focuses more on the practical aspects of legal work; it is more akin to the current LPC. It concentrates on five key skills: legal drafting; legal research and written advice; advocacy/persuasive oral communication; client interviewing; and case and matter analysis – including planning negotiations.
SQE2 will be more practical than SQE1; it includes mock interviews with clients played by actors. The candidate can choose two areas of law wherein their practical skills will be assessed. They can choose two areas from the following: business practice; property; criminal practice; dispute resolution; and wills and the administration of estates.