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All you need to know about the SQE

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), is a new common assessment that will be phased in from September 2021 and which will ultimately replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC) as the route to practice for aspiring solicitors.

At Nottingham Law School (NLS) we know what we are doing when it comes to training the solicitors of the future – we pride ourselves on our reputation for excellence in legal education that goes back almost 60 years. We have an outstanding track record of supporting students on their journey to professional success through the quality of our offering and the expertise of our staff.

Explore our range of SQE preparation courses.

"We are excited about the launch of our innovative and flexible SQE preparation courses. Nottingham Law School’s ethos is about supporting our students to gain the knowledge, confidence and resilience they need to shape extraordinary careers. Our SQE courses are more than just about passing the exams. Our focus is to provide an outstanding student experience and to help our students to develop skills that matter to employers and that help them to succeed in a professional environment."

Jenny Chapman, Executive Dean of Nottingham Law School

As one of the biggest law schools in the UK, we have been working with legal practitioners to prepare for the new assessment. We have already released details of our undergraduate courses, and have designed a portfolio of flexible postgraduate courses to prepare you for the SQE. During the transitional period, which route you will take depends on when you start, when you graduate, and if you have a funded offer from a law firm.

  • If you started or completed a qualifying law degree before 21 September 2021 or GDL before 1 September 2021

OR

  • if you have accepted an offer of a place on a qualifying law degree before 21 September 2021 or GDL before 1 September 2021

These arrangements apply to anyone who has completed, started, accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit by 21 September 2021 (inclusive).

You have two ways to qualify – that is, you can choose whether to do the SQE or the LPC.

Nottingham Law School will continue to offer the full time LLM LPC and part time LLM LPC in September 2021.

Myth buster: qualifying as a solicitor under the current LPC route does not mean that you will have to do the SQE Examinations in 2032!

What does the SQE mean for me?

 

Jane Wood, Principal Lecturer

SQE Stage 1 and 2

Precise details of the exams, the specific topics covered and time you have to take the exams are still being finalised. But you must pass Stage 1 before taking Stage 2.

Stage 1 (SQE 1)

  • Tests your legal knowledge
  • Includes two, exams to test legal knowledge in the core areas of law and practice in 180 multiple choice questions
  • Ethics and conduct will pervade
  • The first examination sitting will be November 2021

Stage 2 (SQE 2)

  • Tests your legal practical skills of advocacy, case and matter analysis, research, writing and drafting, interviewing and attendance note/legal analysis, with an element of negotiation.
  • Assessment involves completing at least 15 written and oral exercises or tasks, in all five practice contexts.
  • Ethics and conduct will pervade
  • The first examination sitting will be April 2022

Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)

You have the flexibility to take your QWE before, during and/or after completing SQE1 and SQE2, at up to four different organisations that comply with the SRA rules. This could be law firms, university pro bono clinics or law centres like our in-house teaching law firm - NLS Legal Advice Centre.

You’ll no longer need to work in specific areas of law, like a training contract, so you’ll develop a broad range of skills to practise as a solicitor. It won’t be assessed like SQE1 and SQE2. You will qualify by showing skills in engaging with clients and how ethics can be applied to real situations. The idea is that it will give you a better range of skills to practise as solicitor.

Your qualifying work experience will be signed off by a solicitor (likely the law firm’s Compliance Officer), who will review and receive feedback on your work. The SRA have said that you could do a lot of your work experience before you sit SQE 2, but it’s not mandatory.

New qualifying system

A key difference is a qualifying law degree, Graduate Diploma or Legal Practice Course (LPC) are no longer compulsory.

Under the new system the steps are:

  1. University degree
  2. Pass SQE Stage 1 and 2
  3. Two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE) with up to four different organisations
  4. Pass the character and suitability requirements set out by the SRA and qualify.

There is a transitional period where both systems will run until the closure of the Legal Practice Course. Find out whether you have to sit the SQE or have a choice between the SQE and the Legal Practice Course. The Solicitors Regulatory Authority will continue to recognise the Legal Practice Course until 2032.

Nottingham Law School will continue to offer the full time LLM LPC and part time LLM LPC in September 2021.

Current qualifying system

The current steps are:

  1. Qualifying Law Degree (QLD), or a non-law degree and a Common Professional Examination (CPE) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course
  2. Legal Practice Course (LPC)
  3. Work as a trainee solicitor, known as a ‘training contract’
  4. Apply to the SRA to be admitted as solicitor.

Our SQE preparation courses

We’ve been preparing for the implementation of the new SQE system since the SRA decided to make the changes. As the SRA finalise different parts of the system, we are incorporating them into the development of our courses.

Next year, in addition to the full time LLM LPC and part time LLM LPC, Nottingham Law School will be running the following postgraduate courses on both a full time and distance learning basis:

For non-law graduates

  • The Postgraduate Diploma in Law
  • An LLM that includes the Graduate Diploma in Law + SQE 1 preparation

For law graduates (including GDL)

  • SQE 1 preparation
  • SQE 2 preparation
  • An LLM that includes SQE 1 preparation with the flexibility to personalise the course to also include SQE 2 preparation

For law undergraduates

Undergraduates on our LLB (Hons) Law degree and LLB (Hons) Sandwich Law degree have the option to complete SQE 1 preparation as part of the final year of their degree through the Applied Legal Knowledge Pathway.

We were the first UK Law School to offer an in-house integrated law firm – our NLS Legal Advice Centre, so we understand the needs of law firms. The Centre is fully regulated as an Alternative Business Structure by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and works closely with local firms, advice agencies, voluntary sector organisations and schools to develop pro bono opportunities for Nottingham Law School students.

For further advice and guidance about which course is right for you, please contact NLS Enquiries.

Advice and guidance for students about the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the forthcoming Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) 

The current route to qualifying as a solicitor requires you to complete the LPC as the vocational stage of training.

The introduction of the SQE by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in November 2021 means that the LPC will gradually be phased out.  So what does this mean for you?

As the new academic year gets under way, NLS is delighted to share some advice and guidance about the SQE.  This is important, as we are now approaching the transition phase during which it will be possible to opt either to complete the LPC, or to sit the SQE.

For further advice and guidance about which course is right for you, please contact NLS Enquiries.

GDL, LPC, SQE – which one do I need to do?

Are you a non-law student?

If you are a non-law student, you will still need to complete the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL) if you wish to complete the LPC. The PGDL provides you with the foundations of legal knowledge that are deemed necessary to enable you to progress to the vocational stage of training as either a solicitor or barrister. The GDL is equivalent to an LLB that is also a “qualifying law degree”.

Although there is no requirement to sit the PGDL ahead of sitting the SQE, the reality is that you will need to obtain the relevant legal knowledge to enable you to sit the SQE.  At NLS, we believe that successfully completing the PGDL is likely to be the best way to achieve this.

Are you currently studying on either the PGDL or the LLB?

If you are a current law student on either an LLB (which is also a qualifying law degree) or the PGDL, your next step is to apply for the vocational stage of training for qualification as a solicitor. This means that you will need to complete either the LPC or the SQE.

For further advice and guidance about which course is right for you, please contact NLS Enquiries.

What is the difference between the LPC and the SQE?

The main difference between the LPC and the SQE is that the SQE is an assessment, not a course.

The NLS LPC is a one-year LLM course which may also be studied over two years part-time.

  • The LPC consists of three elements: the compulsory subjects (Business Law, Property Law and Litigation); the elective subjects (students pick three electives from a choice of subjects); plus skills, solicitors’ accounts, wills and administration of estates, conduct and regulation.
  • The main assessment points are in the spring (when the compulsory subjects are assessed) and the summer (when the electives are assessed). Other assessments are taken throughout the academic year.
  • The LPC assessments are set by the providers.
  • The LLM element (a dissertation or project) is completed after the compulsory subjects are assessed.
  • The fee for the LLM LPC includes the costs of the assessments and the dissertation/project.

The SQE is a centralised assessment. There are two parts to the SQE.

  • SQE 1 tests applied legal knowledge through two multiple-choice examination papers of 180 questions each.
  • SQE 2 assesses legal skills in five distinct subject areas.
  • SQE 1 will be assessed in November 2021 and May 2022.
  • SQE 2 will be assessed in April 2022 and October 2022.
  • The fee for the SQE assessments does not include the costs of any SQE preparation courses.
  • The SQE assessments will be set by Kaplan on behalf of the SRA.

I see that the SQE starts next year, do I have to do it?  

No.  There are transitional arrangements in place. They are available on the SRA website.

Essentially,

  • if you started or completed a qualifying law degree before 1 September 2021

OR

  • if you have accepted an offer of a place on a qualifying law degree before 1 September 2021

you have two ways to qualify – that is, you can choose whether to do the SQE or the LPC.

The LPC route will remain open until 2032, so long as Providers are offering it. Nottingham Law School will continue to offer the full time LLM LPC and part time LLM LPC in September 2021.

For further advice and guidance about which course is right for you, please contact NLS Enquiries.

I will be graduating in the summer of 2021 – should I do the LPC or the SQE?

If you are considering doing the LPC or SQE and you are a final year LLB student or a GDL student graduating in the summer of 2021, we recommend that you seek advice as to the best course of action (LPC or SQE) for your particular circumstances. We will continue to run the established LPC, which will remain valid for several years to come as well as introducing the SQE preparation course.  Please contact NLS Enquiries to talk further about which course is right for you.

Although the LPC will, in time, be superseded by the SQE, it will take two or three years before the SQE is fully established.

I will be graduating in the summer of 2022 – should I do the LPC or the SQE?

We recommend that you “watch this space”. It is likely that the tipping point for widespread adoption of the SQE will be around 2023, even if the LPC is still running. The best thing to do at this stage, is to understand what SQE preparation courses NLS will be offering to support you in your studies should you choose the SQE route.

Do I actually need to do a SQE preparation course?

Technically, the SRA does not require you to undertake an SQE preparation course. However, most people would not sit any other kind of professional examination without ensuring that they have undertaken the necessary study over a sufficient period of time to gain the requisite knowledge and skills.

At NLS, we recommend that you undertake our SQE 1 and SQE 2 preparation courses before you sit the SQE assessments. We make this recommendation for four main reasons:

  • First, the SRA only allows three attempts at the SQE.  The assessments are rightly designed to be rigorous and therefore you will need to work hard to maximise your chances of passing first time.  Should you need to re-sit, this will incur further assessment costs which could be substantial.
  • Second, most law degrees are assessed by way of essays, problem questions and dissertations.  This means that the SQE 1 skill of answering 180, wide-ranging, multiple-choice questions as part of a timed assessment will be a new one for many students.  Practising these skills and obtaining feedback on your performance will be vital to your success.
  • Third, although you may have excellent subject knowledge in one area, you may be weak in another.  Having access to expert tuition to support you in your weaker areas in order to raise your grades will be a key component to your success.
  • Fourth, SQE 2 will require you – amongst other things – to demonstrate your competence as an advocate.  In order to succeed, you will need to show that you have a high level of subject knowledge, an ability to apply that knowledge to a practical problem, and the self-awareness and confidence to hold your own in the court room.  Before putting yourself forward for such a serious assessment, you would be well advised to develop and refine your grasp of these skills.

But doesn’t this mean that doing an SQE preparation course will be an additional expense when combined with the costs of the SQE itself?

Yes, it will. The NLS SQE preparation courses will be an additional cost to the SQE itself. However, for the reasons given above, we think students are best advised to undertake a period of preparation before taking the SQE. If you are going to spend this money, you need to make sure that you pay for a course that is delivered by an institution with a track record of excellence in legal education, such as Nottingham Law School, where quality and expertise are our watchwords.

There will be some financial help available for students:

  • Some NLS SQE courses will be eligible for the UK Government postgraduate loan.
  • As with the LPC, we will also be offering a range of NLS Scholarships for outstanding students.

What courses will NLS be running?

Nottingham Law School will continue to offer the full-time LLM LPC and part-time LLM LPC in September 2021.

We will also be running the following postgraduate courses on both a full time and distance learning basis next year:

For non-law graduates

  • The Graduate Diploma in Law
  • An LLM that includes the Graduate Diploma in Law + SQE 1 preparation

For law graduates (including GDL)

  • SQE 1 preparation
  • SQE 2 preparation
  • An LLM that includes SQE 1 preparation with the flexibility to personalise the course to also include SQE 2 preparation

For law undergraduates

Our undergraduate students currently also have the option to complete SQE 1 preparation as part of their third year LLB studies.

NLS also has an apprenticeship route.

That looks a bit complicated – which one shall I do?

We understand just how important it is to provide our students with courses that suit their personal circumstances. We know that each student who joins us will be at a different stage in their legal education, and we have reflected this in the range of courses we will be offering.

We have designed our courses for law graduates so that you have the flexibility to complete all three elements (SQE 1, SQE 2 plus the Masters element) in one go, or to select and study individual components to suit your circumstances.

For further advice and guidance about which course is right for you, please contact NLS Enquiries.

What will law firms and other legal employers want me to do?

The introduction of the SQE provides greater flexibility for both students and employers when it comes to routes into training.  At NLS, we know this because we spend a lot of time talking to employers from all over the country, including the City of London, Nottingham, and the East Midlands.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to the SQE.  For example:

  • Some employers may want you to have completed and passed SQE 1 and SQE 2 before you start your qualifying work experience (QWE).
  • Some employers may want you to have completed and passed SQE 1 before you start your QWE.  These employers will expect you to complete your SQE 2 while undertaking your QWE.

But how will I find out what employers want me to do?

We recommend that you begin to undertake your own research. You can do this by identifying the employers that you are interested in and finding out from them what their expectations are around the SQE.

Good ways of finding out what an employer wants include:

  • Attending law fairs (in person or virtually) and making a point of visiting that employer’s stand and speaking to their representatives.  This is a great opportunity to ask questions.
  • Studying their website to see what information they have posted about training at their firm.
  • Reading up about the firm in the Legal 500 or similar publications.
  • Talking to the NLS Employability team.
  • Attending NLS and Employability events run by employers.

How much will NLS SQE courses cost?

Our NLS course fees are competitive and provide good value for money.  There will also be some financial additional assistance available for students:

  • Students studying on an LLM will be eligible for a UK Government postgraduate loan.
  • Students can benefit from a wide range of NLS launch discounts.

Details of our course fees can be found on our course pages.

The SRA’s fee for sitting the SQE assessment will be £1,558 (SQE 1) and £2,422 (SQE 2). Please note that the course fee does not include the SRA assessment fees.

Where can I go for help in making my decision?

In addition to the guidance on this page and the useful links below, for further advice and guidance about which course is right for you, please contact NLS Enquiries.

Apply

If you would like to apply for the NLS LPC or PGDL you can do so by visiting our online course pages.

For further information about the SQE please email us.

Useful links

SQE 1 Assessment Specification

SQE 2 Assesment Specification

SRA SQE updates

SRA LPC or SQE decision tree

SRA SQE Q&A

SRA SQE Transitional arrangements

LawCareers.Net Podcast - Episode 12: the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)
Listen to Professor Paula Moffatt from Nottingham Law School all about the SQE, including how exactly it will work, what it means for law and non-law students and what courses will be available for aspiring solicitors.

We’ll keep you posted

Rest assured, we will keep you up-to-date with information as the new system is introduced, to help you make the best decisions for your future in the legal profession.

Register your interest today.