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Will the new solicitors 'super-exam' change the landscape of the legal profession?

The route to becoming a solicitor has remained largely unchanged for years. So, it’s no surprise that a new qualifying assessment has prompted a discussion among the legal community. 

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) will be introduced in autumn 2021 and will replace the current system, the Legal Practice Course (LPC). This will allow graduates without law degrees to qualify as a solicitor. The new exam takes less time to pass and is more accessible, both financially and in terms of career path. The exam is split into two sections – SQE1 and SQE2.

SQE1 – covers the foundations of legal knowledge, similar to that of a law degree. This is combined with the functioning legal knowledge that solicitors need in order to apply their knowledge to real-life situations when practicing law. Topics will include; legal research, dispute resolution in contract or tort, property law, commercial and corporate, wills and criminal law.

SQE2 – covers more practical experience, similar to the traditional LPC. Topics will include; client interviewing, case and matter analysis, legal drafting and advocacy communication.

The exam will also be more cost effective. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) estimate it will cost up to £4,500, compared to the LPC - which previously cost students up to £16,765. As it will cost significantly less, some are worried that more accessibility could lower the standard and therefore the reputation of solicitors.

However, a big issue with the legal profession as a whole, is its lack of diversity. Introducing a new and more flexible route to qualification, will inevitably attract more people from non-legal backgrounds.

I am currently studying – what does this mean for me?

Students currently enrolled in an LPC don’t need to worry that they could be losing out, as the LPC qualification will not expire and candidates will have up until 2032 to complete it. Those who have already started an LPC or equivalent course can choose to continue, or switch to the new system and complete the SQE.

Say goodbye to training contracts

The traditional training contract will no longer be a requirement before trainee solicitors can be admitted to The Law Society’s roll of solicitors. Instead, candidates will need to complete two years of work experience that provides them with the skills and knowledge needed to practice law.

There is much flexibility on how this experience can be obtained, whether on placement during a law degree, paralegal work or on a vacation scheme. This relates to both paid and unpaid work.

Law firms will be able to tailor their training without regulatory interference. The SRA states that firms will need to take a common-sense view of what is meant by work experience – which is very much a grey area, like the rest of the legal system.

It is still a requirement to pass the SRA character and suitability assessment though, where candidates are required to adequately demonstrate their integrity, honesty and professionalism. The continuation of this assessment should ensure that the legal profession’s reputation isn’t damaged.

How will this impact the profession?

According to the SRA, four-fifths of the public say they would have more confidence in solicitors if everyone had to pass the same final exam. Anyone with a degree can take the exam, which means more people will likely become solicitors in the future.

If the changes mean that the notoriously difficult-to-secure training contract will be no more, this may mean more people are able to qualify. However, this may just move the hurdle from obtaining a training contract to securing a newly qualified position, given the increased competition for a similar number of jobs.

Opening the doors to people from all walks of life can only be a good thing. The diverse nature of our culture should be reflected by our legal representation, and it will be interesting to see what a wider influx of talent will bring to the industry.

Whether you are looking to start your legal career or recruit a new professional to your firm, Reed Legal can help. Talk to a consultant today, or find your local office.