Ivan Milatović, Legal Manager at publishing company Hachette UK, was a law lecturer at BPP University for over a decade. He shares his insight about the new route to qualification for solicitors in England and Wales. The Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQE) and Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) will replace the traditional Legal Practice Course (LPC) and two-year training contract.
He shares how recruitment may differ between trainees on the LPC and those on the new route to qualification. Ivan also shares what training structures are emerging and how in-house legal departments could think about structuring their training for trainee lawyers on the SQE and QWE route.
The basics – the Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQE) and Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
Previous regime: pre-training contract (academic stage):
- Aspiring solicitors must take an undergraduate degree in law or another subject.
- If their undergraduate degree is in law, they must then complete a compulsory course called the Legal Practice Course (LPC).
- If they hold an undergraduate degree other than a law degree they will need to take a law conversion course before the LPC, called the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
Training contract (vocational stage):
- Students have to secure a two-year training contract with a law firm or in-house with a business or other entity (such as government).
- Training contracts are notoriously difficult to secure for many law students and the number of students applying for these far outweigh the number of contracts available. According to The Law Society’s figures from 2011 to 2019 an average of 9978 start the LPC each year, but less than 6000 get training contracts. This means around 40 percent are not reaching the vocational stage of training, which they need to complete in order to qualify as solicitors.
- It is hoped that the new regime (SQE and QWE) will ensure better access to the profession for a more diverse range of candidates.· The new route to qualification will replace the LPC and training contract completely by December 2032.
SQE and QWE:
Ivan explains that the main difference between the LPC and the SQE is that there is no compulsory course people have to take in order to complete the SQE. It’s only a compulsory set of exams.
So, people can prepare for the SQE in a variety of ways, including self-study. The LPC was a compulsory course and several providers set their own exams.
The SQE is a centrally set “essentially by Solicitors Regulation Authority, so everybody does the same exam,” Ivan explains.
The two SQE exams
- Made up of two multiple choice exams. And Ivan says, “these are not for the faint-hearted”.
- The SQE 1 is split into two exams that take place on seperate days and candidates.
- Each exam contains 180 multiple choice questions.
- Each exam is split into two parts with 90 questions and candidates have 2 hours 33 minutes to complete each part.
- The price is £1,558 currently for SQE1 (but will go up to £1,622 from October 2022).
- You have three chances to pass SQE1.
These exams cover “an enormous amount of law,” says Ivan. They cover areas that might be covered in a law degree or in the LPC, so from questions on land law to ethics, and Solicitors’ Accounts for example. The exams are very broad, and the topics are not split up, as they would be for LPC exams.
“You need to know a lot of law and recall it quite quickly,” Ivan says.
- These 12 written assessments, taken over three separate days – comprising drafting, writing, research and case analysis.
- There are also four oral assessments on separate days to the written assessments.
- comprising interviewing and advocacy.
- Price for SQE 2 is currently about £2,422 (to rise to £2,493 from October 2022).
- You have three chances to pass SQE2.
Ivan says it is a demanding set of exams and that students will only be able to take SQE2 once they pass SQE1. You have three chances to pass SQE1.
The intention is that the SQE should be more affordable than the LPC – explore a comparison of the costs of the various routes. It depends on the course provider and the location, whether online or in-person.
However, Ivan says most students will have to pay for SQE preparatory courses. So, there is some doubt about how much more affordable the SQE regime will be for the majority of candidates once costs of preparatory courses are factored in, when compared to the LPC.
QWE will replace the training contract.
- Like a training contract, the QWE is two years.
- It is more flexible than a training contract.
- It is legal work, or legal experience at up to four different organisations.
- The training contract was only at one law firm or business, if in-house.
To qualify you have to show that:
1) You passed SQE1 and SQE2.
2) You have gained competencies on solicitor competence issued by the SRA.
Ivan says “The basic point is that QWE is intended to enable more people to qualify, than the previous training contract.”
Advice to in-house teams when recruiting trainees qualifying under the new regime
Ivan suggests that there are two things in-house teams will want to think about:
The SQE is “quite bare bones” in terms of legal knowledge and preparation for preparation for legal practice.
It focuses on essential areas of law and there are no electives as there are on the LPC. Ivan compares it to the Qualifying Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), which is the exam internationally qualified lawyers take when they want to practice in England and Wales. Ivan says the lack of electives, which are specialised, means candidates will not be prepared for those specialised areas as they were by electives under the LPC and they would also not be trained in business or interpersonal skills. He says those recruiting talent to in-house teams need to think about how they would be preparing candidates to fill those gaps in their knowledge. He suggests that there are various options to help students master these, which includes the option of sending them on additional courses before they join the company or training them on the job.
SQE mark as a benchmark for excellent candidates?
Ivan says that the SQE mark could in time be a calling card for applicants. He says because all candidates sit the exact same exams it would be possible to compare candidates based on the mark. He says the question for in-house teams is how much they want to use the SQE as a benchmark or assessing people’s quality.
Emerging training structures
Earn as you learn
Deloitte has launched a three-year training contract and trainees earn as they learn. They work and are released to study one day a week. Trainees will study for and pass their exams while working at the company.
There are various kinds of apprenticeships. Hill Dickinson, for example, has started a graduate apprenticeship. So trainees will study, while working and pass SQE 1 and 2 and gain QWE.
School leavers will take these and study towards an undergraduate degree and then SQE 1 and 2 while gaining QWE.
Ivan suggests that in-house lawyers need to tailor the training to the needs of their organisation. The question to start with is how to supplement the SQE, as the exams will not give trainees all the knowledge they need.
You can watch Ivan talk about this in a two-part video series. In Part 1 Ivan talks about the structure of the SQE and QWE and part two about recruitment advice to in-house legal teams.