Once the new SQE assessment is phased in starting from next year, students looking to embark on a career as a solicitor will all take the same exams, regardless of their academic route. Although you’ll no longer need to undertake a Qualifying Law Degree to be eligible for taking the initial SQE1 exam, it will undoubtedly provide you with the core law skills - the Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK) - that will be crucial in passing this stage of the process.
This can be done either through a three-year law degree, such as the LLB course, or a longer solicitor apprenticeship, which incorporates both a degree and the SQE exams while allowing you to work at the same time. These legal apprenticeships have been in place since 2016, and allow prospective solicitors to gain the same qualifications as those going down the more ‘traditional’ route. There are various advantages to either option, depending on which arrangement suits you best.
Advantages of doing a solicitor apprenticeship
By doing a solicitor apprenticeship, your period of work experience needed to qualify will already be integrated into your programme. What’s more, you won’t have to bear the burden of accruing student debt to pay for your tuition fees, while it’s likely that the cost of entry for your SQE1 and 2 exams will be covered as well, making this a more cost effective route to take.
The apprenticeship will allow you to gain professional experience straight away, while with a law degree you are usually only expected to start applying for short-term vacation schemes in your second year.
Advantages of studying a law degree
On the other hand, although it could be argued that there’s no substitute for hands-on work experience and learning on the job, doing a law degree will undoubtedly equip you with a wide range of technical knowledge. You’ll be studying the core modules that make up a Qualifying Law Degree and more, particularly if you undertake a joint programme where you study the legal system of another country.
It might also be the case that some firms, especially more prestigious City ones, prefer that students go through the process of getting a vacation scheme during their degree and then apply for a vacation scheme, as is currently the system.
You should also bear in mind that under the new rules set out with the introduction of SQE, you can also complete a non-law degree and still be eligible to sit the SQE1 exam on graduating, just as a law graduate would.