The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is a new pathway to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales. It consists of several examinations that assess essential skills that are required for one to become a solicitor. It aims to broaden access to legal careers by eliminating the financial hurdles that were inherent to the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

Currently, aspiring solicitors can qualify through the traditional route – the LPC or the new route – the SQE.

The traditional qualification route to becoming a solicitor in the UK involves students completing a law degree, the LPC, and a two-year training contract. Students can also obtain a non-law degree, complete the law conversion course, the LPC, and then a two-year training contract. This traditional pathway will still be in place until 2032.

SQE Pathway to Becoming a Solicitor

The new Solicitors Qualifying Examination pathway to becoming a solicitor was introduced in September 2021 and requires students to:

    • Complete a Law Degree or Non-Legal Degree (law conversion course required)
    • Pass SQE 1 Assessment
    • Pass SQE 2 Assessment
    • Pass the character and suitability assessment by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)
    • Complete 2 years of qualifying work experience (can be taken at any time during the qualification process)

With the SQE you are not required to complete the LPC. SQE exams are meant to assess similar skills as do LPC exams. It is important to note that the route does not involve coursework like the traditional route did with the SQE. Instead, the new SQE route solely focuses on examinations, which are divided into two stages.

There is no mandatory coursework with the SQE. However, many universities and education providers are starting to offer SQE courses for students who are choosing to qualify as a solicitor through the SQE.

Explore whether LPC or SQE is the right choice for you.

The Format of the SQE

The SQE is divided into two stages. Students can attempt to pass each stage 3 times and both stages must be completed within six years of starting the assessment process.

What is SQE 1

The first stage of the SQE, SQE 1, focuses on “functioning legal knowledge”. It aims to test your real-life legal skills by assessing your application of law to various client-based scenarios. The test is multiple choice and is split into two parts. Each part consists of 180 multiple-choice questions.

SQE 1 covers topics that are typical for students to learn while studying law, conversion course, and part 1 of the LPC course. It is worth mentioning that you cannot commence SQE 2 unless you pass SQE 1.

The first part of SQE 1 covers:

      • Business Law and Legal Practice
      • Dispute Resolution
      • Contract
      • Tort
      • Legal System of England and Wales
      • Constitutional and Administrative Law and EU Law and Legal Services
      • Ethics and Professional Conduct (included in both parts of SQE 1)

The second part of SQE 1 covers:

      • Property Practice
      • Wills and the Administration of Estates
      • Solicitors Accounts
      • Land Law
      • Trusts
      • Criminal Law and Practice
      • Ethics and Professional Conduct (included in both parts of SQE 1)

What is SQE 2

SQE 2 focuses on practical skills required for newly qualified solicitors. SQE 2 aims to test a variety of practical skills through written and oral assessments. This part of the process can be compared to LPC assessments.

SQE 2 assessments focus on the following practice areas:

      • Criminal practice
      • Dispute resolution
      • Property
      • Wills and the administration of estates
      • Business practice

SQE 2 assessed practice areas are derived from the foundations and advanced understanding of the following areas of law:

      • Criminal litigation: Criminal liability
      • Dispute resolution: Contract law and tort
      • Property practice: Land law
      • Wills and intestacy, probate administration and practice: Trusts
      • Business organisations, rules and procedures: Contract law

Professionalism and ethics, although not a stand-alone assessed practice area, questions about it will be incorporated in the assessment of other practice areas. Taxation is another area of law that will be assessed, and which may appear in property practice, wills and intestacy, and business organisations.

SQE 2 tests the following core skills:

      • Client interviewing
      • Advocacy
      • Case and matter analysis
      • Legal research
      • Legal writing
      • Legal drafting

Negotiation (although not a stand-alone skill that will be assessed, it is incorporated with the assessment of other core skills).

SQE Preparation Courses

There are plenty of SQE preparation course providers, each offering various packages to help aspiring solicitors. It is worth mentioning that it is not mandatory to undertake any preparatory courses. However, for some students, it may be beneficial as they would help you better understand what kind of material you should expect from the SQE assessments.

SQE 1 and 2 Courses

There are available SQE preparation courses for SQE 1 and SQE 2. Although SQE 1 is mainly based on material that one would have studied during their legal studies, and SQE 2 is based on practical skills that one would have studied during the LPC route, completing an SQE course will still provide you with good preparation for the assessments.

SQE Course Providers and Costs

Many institutions created courses for aspiring solicitors undertaking this route, like:

SQE preparation course costs vary significantly from institution to institution. It is important to note that the costs of the preparatory courses do not include the separate SQE assessment fees which are set by the SRA.

Students should expect to spend anywhere from £1,000 to £8,000 per SQE preparatory course. Some institutions offer package deals if you wish to purchase both preparatory courses together.

SQE Exam Costs

The exam fees for SQE are set by the SRA. Kaplan has been selected as the organisation that will deliver the SQE assessments.

    • SQE 1 – £1,558 (this includes two required assessments for stage 1)
    • SQE 2 – £2,422 (this includes both oral and written assessments of stage 2)

Re-sit fees are likely to be similar to the costs of the initial examinations, however, the SRA has not yet confirmed this.

SQE Qualifying Work Experience

If you are planning on taking the SQE, you are required to complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) to become a solicitor in England and Wales. It will be similar to a training contract or perhaps will be called an SQE training contract.

QWE can be completed at any time during your SQE studies, but most students will probably undertake it after completing their post-secondary education or after completing the SQE 1. QWE is not assessed by the SRA, unlike the examinations. However, QWE is meant to prepare students for SQE 2. It is the duty of your supervising solicitor to assess whether your QWE meets the standards set by the SRA.

You are allowed to complete the QWE with up to 4 different employers. QWE must be signed off by your legal employer. You will have to get a sign-off from a solicitor at the organization that you work at and a compliance officer.

It is possible to receive SQE exemptions from QWE depending on your work experience.

Types of Work that Satisfy QWE Requirements

    • Paralegal work, legal assistant, or legal volunteering work does account as QWE.
    • Students can count their time working at a university legal clinic, or any other legal job during their degrees into the QWE time requirements.
    • Law firms’ SQE graduate programmes

QWE and Areas of Law

You can undertake legal work experience in any area of law. There are no requirements under the SQE for you to gain experience in specific areas of law. QWE can be contentious or non-contentious in nature.

SQE Funding

You can fund your studies in several ways. Firstly, your employer may cover the costs as part of your graduate training. Secondly, you may apply for the Law Society’s Diversity Access Scheme, which may cover your costs. Thirdly, most universities offer scholarships and bursaries which may go towards covering the costs of your studies.

As of now, current exams under SQE are not covered under the government’s postgraduate loans scheme.

SQE Requirements fo Qualified Lawyers

Suitability requirements for anyone who is already a practicing lawyer in a foreign country are the same. You are required to have finished law school and be a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction and only then you will have to sit the SQE law qualifying exams.

This is an essential part of qualifying as a solicitor with foreign qualifications. It is preferable that even licensed foreign lawyers should take SQE training courses to increase their legal knowledge of English & Welsh law.

How Long Will the SQE Take to Complete

It will be possible to complete the SQE in 2 years if you take your prep courses and complete your exams during your QWE. However, it will likely take longer as most students will be unable to work and study at the same time.