You don’t need to take a law conversion course for the SQE… but here’s why you should

students in a tutorial

The University of Law explains how these courses could set you up for success

Considering a career in law? Before you can qualify as a solicitor or barrister, you’ll need to pass a set of specific assessments. These tests cover legal concepts that can be tricky to understand if you don’t already have a degree in law.

This is where law conversion courses come in. While it’s not always a requirement that you take one, they will prepare you for these all-important exams and put you in a much better position to succeed. 

And law firms prefer students to have taken them, too. A 2023 Legal Cheek survey of 46 UK law firms found that 98% of respondents would ask non-law students to take a law conversion course before beginning their SQE preparation. 

We spoke to Peter Goodchild, national programme director for law conversion courses at The University of Law, to get his thoughts on how taking one of these courses could benefit aspiring legal professionals.

What’s the point of a law conversion course?

In order to qualify as a lawyer in England and Wales, there are certain professional assessments that you need to pass. Solicitors need to pass the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) 1 and 2, and barristers need to pass the Bar assessments.

It’s completely up to you how you prepare for these assessments and learn the material you need to know. If you haven’t already taken a law degree, a law conversion course is designed to get you up to speed.

Peter explains that to pass, “you will need to be on top of both academic and more practice-focused legal concepts. The best way to understand the academic concepts is to undertake either a law degree or, if you have already done a different degree, a law conversion course.”

“You can then study on a vocational programme to build on your academic knowledge and prepare you for your professional assessments either as a solicitor or as a barrister,” Peter says.

Who would take a law conversion course?

There are plenty of practising lawyers out there who don’t have an undergraduate law degree. In fact, Peter comments that “some of the best lawyers are people who originally studied or practised in a completely different area and can bring their own skills and expertise into the profession.”

Rather than going in cold and attempting to prepare for the qualifying exams without professional help, “for a person who has a non-law degree, the best way to learn and understand those important academic legal concepts is via a law conversion course like The University of Law’s PgDL or MA Law,” says Peter. 

And beyond the necessary base of academic legal knowledge, you’ll also strengthen other key skills, too. “Law conversion courses are great for assimilating legal knowledge, but also for developing those crucial cognitive and practical skills such as critical reasoning and written and oral communication,” comments Peter.

How does a law conversion course prepare you for the SQE?

The SQE tests are “demanding centralised assessments set on behalf of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA),” says Peter. To pass these, students need to be well-prepared, with a strong base of knowledge across several topics.

The first set of assessments, SQE1, “tests candidates’ knowledge using 180 single best answer questions (SBAQs) in each of two assessments. These cover what the SRA calls functioning legal knowledge. These questions require an in-depth understanding of how the law works in many different areas,” Peter shares. 

“The University of Law’s conversion courses and SQE1 courses focus on preparing people for these demanding exams using student-focused learning and varied forms of assessments. SBAQ assessments are an integral part of The University of Law’s conversion courses and SQE1 courses,” explains Peter, 

And that’s not all: “on top of this, the in-depth study of law on a law conversion course helps people assimilate the relevant knowledge more comprehensively and the varied formats of assessment drive embedded understanding of these key areas,” Peter adds.

What’s it like to take a law conversion course?

You might be wondering how you could fit a law conversion course into your day-to-day life. In terms of the workload, Peter shares that “like legal practice itself, studying on a law conversion course can be very demanding but also immensely satisfying”.

And if you’re concerned about the practicalities of making it work, Peter explains that “The University of Law offers both full-time and part-time study, online and face-to-face in campuses around the country. Typically, a full-time student on one of The University of Law’s conversion courses will study 40 or more hours per week across four different modules and a part-time student will study for 20 or more hours per week.”

“All these different modes of study share the same learning model, which is focused on the university helping the student meet both module and programme outcomes. Each module is split into eight or nine units of study, each of which is about ten hours long – so a student will normally be studying a unit each of four different modules side by side. The assessments are at the end of each of two terms,” Peter continues.  

In terms of how you’re taught, at The University of Law “our tried-and-tested learning model is designed to help students meet their potential,’ says Peter. 

“It is split into three stages: prepare, engage and consolidate. The ‘engage’ stage of learning is via group workshop study when studying face-to-face or working asynchronously on tasks when studying online. The ‘prepare’ stage lays the groundwork for effective active learning during the ‘engage’ stage. Finally, effective ‘consolidation’ allows the student to move on to the next unit with confidence that their learning has been embedded,” Peter says. 

“While this study is intensive, students are able to reflect on a really proficient accumulation of knowledge and skills even over the course of a few weeks,” comments Peter. 

Why should you take a law conversion course?

While law conversion courses are not a requirement for the SQE, not taking one could put you at a disadvantage. 

Peter explains why this is the case. “The SQE assessments are really demanding centralised assessments, as is appropriate for aspiring solicitors. They encompass over ten hours of SBAQ questions in SQE1, plus 16 SQE2 skills assessments.”

“While it is theoretically possible for a candidate to attempt these challenging and comprehensive centralised assessments without studying on a law conversion course (plus SQE courses), this would be an exceptionally ambitious and risky strategy, fraught with risk,” says Peter. 

Would-be lawyers can benefit from a law conversion course, then, because “an aspiring solicitor is much more likely to be successful if they have thoroughly embedded that academic and practice-focused legal knowledge and skills in the context of a tailor-made conversion course and then SQE-focused courses,” Peter comments. 

Finally, a law conversion course shows commitment to the sector, which could impress hiring law firms. 

“Potential employers are more likely to hire someone who has taken the trouble to develop their legal knowledge and skills in a comprehensive and practice-focused programme of study such as The University of Law’s PgDL and MA Law and its SQE-focused courses,” says Peter.

Rise to the challenge

If you’re concerned about the amount of time and work you’ll need to put into your conversion course, Peter has a few words of reassurance. 

“Many of our students find the courses intensely stimulating and confirmation of what they expected – that they actively enjoy the study of law and derive great satisfaction from developing and perfecting key critical skills and professional behaviours,” says Peter. 

“While it is true that law conversion courses stretch people immensely, most of our students find that they rise to the challenge and many exceed their expectations massively. Lots also have a great time while they are on the course and make some lifelong friends along the way,” Peter finishes.

Our partnership with The University of Law

The University of Law

The Student Room is proud to work with The University of Law as the official partner of our law hub, where current and future law students can find the advice and guidance they need.

The University of Law welcomes intelligent, ambitious students interested in the world around them; people who question systems, procedures and behaviours, and are not afraid to challenge convention.

Study at The University of Law and you’ll be equipped with the professional knowledge you need to excel in your chosen career, and supported by an award-winning employability service to help you get there.