As a non-law graduate, up until now you will have had to complete a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) in order to begin qualifying as a solicitor. This would be followed by the Legal Practice Course, which along with a two-year training contract at a law firm would allow you to fully qualify as a legal professional with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The SRA has now implemented a new route to qualifying, which will require both law and non-law graduates to go through the same standardised exams and requirements, known as the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
Do I need to switch from GDL to SQE?
The SRA have announced that there will be a transition period, stretching until 2032, in which prospective solicitors can still qualify through the old route as long as they’ve started one of the components.
This means that if you’ve graduated and embarked on the GDL, your best option is to carry on and finish qualifying through this pathway - especially if you are taking the course as part of a training contract, in which case your employer will have likely already made a decision regarding the route by which you will qualify.
Is a training contract still needed to become a solicitor?
The arrival of SQE also marks a change in the way graduates undertake their legal placements and obtain work experience before qualifying. Instead of needing to clinch a place on a training contract with a law firm, you can now obtain experience in a wider range of roles - such as voluntary legal work, placements as a paralegal or in a law clinic.
Although you’ll still need to complete 24 months’ worth of professional legal work, you can split this into up to four roles at different companies. This means that if you didn’t secure a training contract at the end of your degree, there are still a wide range of opportunities for you to gain the required Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
If you’ve decided to wait for the SQE, you might want to make use of the time you have now to get some legal work experience in the bank, as you’re free to take on roles before, during and after you study for the exams.
Should I start the GDL or wait for SQE?
The SQE is split into two components, SQE1 and SQE2, which both comprise a series of exams testing your legal knowledge. Unlike the GDL and LPC, these only consist of the exams themselves, so you’ll need to sign up for a preparation course with one of the providers - such as The University of Law - before taking them.
The SQE1 covers much of the same content as the GDL - namely what’s known as Functioning Legal Knowledge. However, one aspect of SQE which might make it worth the wait is its lower price in comparison to its predecessors, with the two sets of exams requiring a total entry fee of just under £4,000.