What do we know?
The cornerstone of the new route is the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will launch in 2021. That means that if you are already studying law you will be able to qualify under the old route. The SQE will be part of a 4 stage process of qualification as a solicitor. The SQE itself forms 2 of those stages with SQE 1 testing legal knowledge and its application and SQE 2 testing more practical lawyering skills. The other stages are passing the SRA’s character and suitability requirement and having a degree or equivalent level qualification (in any subject).
These four building blocks can, at least theoretically, be achieved in any order. We also know that Kaplan are the approved provider for the administration of the test and that there will be several test centres across the nation where you can sit SQE 1 – a series of multiple choice tests. It is likely that there will be fewer locations for SQE 2 as it is more logistically challenging because of its practical nature. The knowledge to be tested is that covered in the Statement of Legal Knowledge published by the SRA and essentially covers company/commercial law, dispute resolution, contract law and tort, property law and practice, wills and the administration of estates, equity and trust, criminal law and practice, public and administrative law, EU law and the legal systems of England and Wales. We also know that the SRA’s best guess at the cost of the SQE stands at £4500. This is the figure suggested for the test only and does not include any preparatory courses.
Things you need to think about
- There will be a variety of different degrees out there including law degrees which aim to prepare you for the SQE. You need to think carefully about the degree that you want and you need to keep in mind that employers (whether in the legal sector or elsewhere) generally prefer degrees which teach important academic skills like how to think critically and creatively, communicate well and handle large volumes of material effectively and efficiently. An SQE focused degree is unlikely to give you this.
- Whatever sort of degree you do, you are likely to need a preparatory course for the SQE. One that helps you cram the relevant information you will need for the text in your head and help you practice the very specific way the test wants you to use that knowledge. These preparatory courses do not exist yet but when they do they are likely to be of varying quality and cost and you need to be careful in choosing. You will have to pay for this on top of the SQE test fee and it is not clear whether there will be any loans available for this.
- The SQE includes no requirement to know anything about or have ever studied some of the areas of law that are really important in many of our lives and because of this there is a real risk that they will be pushed out of the curriculum entirely. If you are interested in social justice, family law, immigration or employment law then you need to look carefully at whether these things are offered as part of your degree and how they fit into any pathway you might want to take.
- Your SQE result is not likely to determine your chances of getting into a particular firm, employers will continue to look at other markers of what they consider to be excellence and merit so the SQE does not solve problems of access to the solicitors profession.
There is much we do not know about the SQE and while things remain so uncertain it is difficult to give advice. The SQE is currently being piloted so once the outcomes of that pilot are available we may be able to say a little more. Leeds Law School has a number of academics working on issues related to law teaching and the SQE and we will always try and answer your questions and keep you updated so that you can make the decisions that are right for you.
For some critiques of the reforms you can have a look at a recent Special Issue of the Law Teacher: The International Journal of Legal Education.