The route by which prospective solicitors qualify to practice in the legal profession has changed, as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has introduced the new SQE exams. This reform aims to standardise the path to qualification for all, regardless of academic background, whereby everyone will take the same exams whether they’ve completed a law degree or not.
As a graduate from a non-legal academic background, you will have undertaken the Graduate Diploma in Law as a conversion course ahead of taking the Legal Practice Course - because of this, you have several options open to you with regards to qualifying.
Do I need to switch to SQE from GDL?
There’s no obligation to switch between qualifying routes for now. The SRA has implemented a transition period running until 2032, which allows you to qualify under the current standards if you’ve begun - or are set to begin - a training contract, GDL or LPC. This means that if you’re already on your way to fulfilling the current requirements, you’ll have plenty of time to finish, as long as courses remain available.
How different is SQE compared to GDL?
The SQE will consist of two sets of standalone exams - SQE1 and SQE2 - which will look to test graduates on their fundamental legal knowledge and practical skills. SQE1 will cover much of the same content as GDL, consisting of what is known as Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK), as well as an assessment of professional ethics and conduct throughout.
Do I still need a training contract for the SQE?
If you’ve already been accepted by a law firm onto a training contract - your employer is likely to oversee you completing your GDL and LPC rather than switching to SQE.
If you’re studying the GDL full-time, you will have the option to qualify through the SQE route as well - by passing both SQE1 and 2, as well as completing two years’ worth of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) - this is a more flexible alternative to a training contract and allows you to undertake roles at different organisations.
What are the benefits of doing the SQE?
One of the key advantages of the new specification is its reduced cost in comparison to previous routes - the two sets of exams together will cost just short of £4,000, a reduced fee with regards to the GDL and LPC, which can each range from about £9,000 to beyond the £15,000 mark, depending on the provider.
Nevertheless, you should bear in mind that the SQE figure excludes fees for preparation courses, which are highly recommended before taking the demanding set of exams that make up the qualification.