With the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in September 2021 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), candidates will have two ways that they can qualify as a lawyer in England and Wales – either by taking the SQE or by completing a Legal Practice Course (LPC). However, the cost of qualifying varies between the two pathways, which we will discuss below.
Qualifying as a lawyer – the traditional pathway
Until the introduction of the SQE, there was a clear route to qualifying as a lawyer. This pathway will still be a valid option until 2032, when it will be phased out in favour of the SQE.
Currently, in order to become a lawyer, students are expected to complete a degree in law. If your degree is in another subject, you need to obtain a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
This is a postgraduate law course that takes around 18 to 24 months to complete and covers the content that you would have learnt on a law degree.
Once you have completed your law degree or GDL, you need to take the LPC. This vocational course is around 1 or 2 years long, depending on whether you are doing it full-time or part-time respectively.
The programme covers the theoretical background of law in addition to providing you with practical skills that you need to succeed as a solicitor.
To become a fully qualified solicitor, you also need to complete a 2 year training contract with one employer in the legal industry.
The new route – the SQE
With the launch of the SQE by the SRA in September 2021, the route to qualifying as a solicitor becomes much more standardised; unlike with the present system, all candidates will cover the same curriculum on their chosen preparation course and sit the same examination.
The SQE essentially replaces the LPC and non-law graduates are not required to take a GDL in order to enrol. Nonetheless, a degree in law will give you a good grounding to succeed on the SQE.
The vocational course of the SQE will consist of two stages – SQE1 and SQE2. The topics covered in the two courses will coincide with the ones that are on the GDL and LPC programmes at the moment.
Just like with the traditional system, you also need to accumulate two years of work experience in the legal industry.
Training contracts from the old system are replaced by ‘qualifying work experience’ (QWE), which will allow candidates to develop the competencies outlined by the SRA as essential to becoming a solicitor.
Unlike with training contracts, candidates can complete their QWE in multiple organisations or companies within the legal industry, encouraging them to gain as much experience as possible in different areas of law.
So which option is cheaper?
The traditional pathway to qualifying as a lawyer comes with a hefty fee, especially if you haven’t obtained a degree in law.
GDL courses can cost between £7,000 and £12,000, while LPC programme fees can be as little as £9,000 or as much as £17,000. The cost of the course varies depending on what programme you choose and the institution you study at.
On the other hand, qualifying as a solicitor could be significantly cheaper through the SQE. The cost of taking SQE1 and SQE2 will be £1,100-£1,650 and £1,900-£2,850 respectively, which will mean that you will not have to pay more than £4,500 to earn the qualification.
Even though this does not include the price of preparation courses, they will also be significantly cheaper than GDL and LDC programmes. Preparation courses may cost as little as £3000 for each stage.
The significantly lower price of the SQE route will no doubt open up the legal profession to those who have been previously unable to afford the fees that accompany the GDL and LDC route to becoming a solicitor.