10 things you need to know about the SQE


What the SQE means for aspiring solicitors

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is the new route to qualification for aspiring solicitors.

The first SQE exams took place in November 2021, starting the transition away from the traditional Legal Practice Course (LPC) towards this centralised, broad-spectrum test that will scrutinise in-depth legal knowledge and skills.

So if you are already studying law, or planning to start soon, what do you need to know? We spoke to Jill Howell Williams, national programme director for the SQE at The University of Law to find out.

1. Other qualification routes will remain in place for a while yet

The LPC is not going anywhere fast, however the transitional rules are complex. You can continue with the current LPC route if, on or before 31 August 2021, you completed, started, accepted an offer, or paid a non-refundable deposit for one of the following:

For a qualifying law degree (QLD) and exempting law degree (ELD), such as The University of Law's LLB, you must have completed, started, accepted an offer or paid a non-refundable deposit by 21 September 2021.

In most cases, for the QLD, ELD and CPE, the relevant course must have started at the latest on or before 31 December 2021.

If you have already started a qualifying law degree, GDL or training contract there are transitional arrangements in place until 31 December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor under the current routes, as long as courses still remain available.

2. It’s split into two parts

SQE1 is designed to test your functioning legal knowledge – this includes a very broad syllabus covering academic and practice areas of law, for example, crime and contract plus subjects in vocational areas such as wills, dispute resolution and property practice.

SQE2 assesses legal skills but also tests your functioning legal knowledge. Skills include the oral skills of advocacy and interviewing plus written skills such as legal research, legal writing, drafting and case and matter analysis.

3. There are a lot of exams

So far it sounds fairly straightforward, but don’t be fooled, there are a number of exams involved. SQE1 is split into two papers, each one containing 180 questions, and each paper is five hours long. The two papers are spread over two days.

You have to pass your SQE1 to be able to move on to SQE2, and you have three possible attempts at this. “You need to know your academic law and your professional practice areas to get through this exam,” says Jill. “Law firms want their trainees to have a good grounding in academic law, they want to see that you know your stuff.”

SQE2 consists of 16 assessments split over five half days. These will test your practical legal skills, so you can expect both written and oral tasks.

4. Multiple choice questions

In the SQE1 exams, the questions are multiple-choice. “It is a particular style of a multiple-choice question, known as ‘single best answer question’,” says Jill. “There are five options to choose from and any number of them could be technically correct, but the secret to success is for students to pick the one that is most correct.”

Students will be expected to relate their choice of answer back to the context of the question, and just to make it even more challenging, it’s all timed – you have one minute and 40 seconds per question.

5. You don’t need to have a law degree

You can be accepted onto an SQE training course with a variety of degrees, but if you don’t have a law degree you will need to complete some form of conversion course to cover the academic law which makes up half of the SQE1 syllabus.

6. You don’t technically need a conversion course – though it might be helpful

Theoretically, a law degree or a conversion course (known as the Postgraduate Diploma in Law) is no longer the necessity as it was with the LPC. However, realistically, to get through 360 rigorous questions (half of which will be based in academic law) you will need to have a decent understanding of academic law. There remain a variety of training courses on offer. For example, The University of Law offers the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL), which is designed to give non-law graduates the necessary grounding.

7. You do still need work experience

To complete your SQE you are required to do two years of qualifying work experience (QWE), which could be at one practice, or split between up to four employers. 

You can do this all at once, or divide your time between placements to suit you. QWE can be paid or voluntary and includes working in a law clinic, as a paralegal, or a formal QWE placement with a law firm. 

8. There is a range of training courses available

Taking The University of Law as an example, there are a few different routes through the SQE.

There are SQE1 and SQE2 Preparation Courses, which you can take separately, as standalone courses, or sign up to both. The full-time SQE1 course takes 12 weeks, while the full-time SQE2 course runs for six weeks.

Both have the option to be taken part-time and online. “These are designed to prepare students for the exams,” says Jill.

“The teaching is specifically designed around the SQE so students will feel fully prepared when it comes to the time to sit the exams.” 

There are also Masters options available, such as The University of Law's LLM Legal Practice (SQE1&2), which have all the bells and whistles.

“Our Master’s courses prepare you for the SQE, but they also go further than that," adds Jill. 

"We know from talking with law professionals that law firms want well-rounded candidates with a breadth of knowledge that goes well beyond the SQE exams.”

9. Practice questions are a popular way to revise

As well as workshops, tutor sessions and hands-on tutoring, blitzing hundreds of practice SQE1 questions is one of the most popular training methods, according to The University of Law students.

When it comes to picking your course, check what revision aids are available. Do they have legal quiz apps that learn and respond to your strengths and weaknesses? Would you have access to a seemingly endless assessment bank of practice multiple choice questions? 

10. Check your dates

In 2023, the SQE1 exams take place in January and July, and also in January and July in the years following, until the SRA increases the number of sitting points.

This will mean that most full time courses will start in September and March in subsequent years to meet these assessment dates. However, it is worth checking individual providers to check if they offer additional intakes.

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