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SQE Explained: Your Guide to Becoming a Solicitor in England and Wales

SQE Your Guide to Becoming a Solicitor in England and Wales

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The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) has revolutionised the pathway to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales. This comprehensive guide is designed to clarify the SQE, detailing the examination structure, associated costs, and the qualifying process.

What is the SQE?

The SQE, or Solicitors Qualifying Examination, is a standardised assessment for all aspiring solicitors in England and Wales. Introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the SQE replaces the traditional Legal Practice Course (LPC) route, providing a more accessible and flexible pathway to the solicitor profession.

The SQE is designed to assess candidates on their knowledge and skills in areas such as legal research and writing, client interviewing, advocacy, and legal drafting. It consists of two stages: SQE1, which tests candidates on legal knowledge and application of law, and SQE2, which assesses candidates on their ability to apply their knowledge and skills in a practical legal context.

One of the key benefits of the SQE is that it allows candidates to prepare for the assessments at their own pace and in their own time, without having to commit to a full-time course of study. This makes the qualification more accessible to individuals who may not be able to undertake the traditional LPC route due to work or family commitments.

The introduction of the SQE has also been praised for promoting diversity within the legal profession, as it provides a more flexible and affordable pathway to qualification. By removing the need for candidates to complete a specific course of study, the SQE allows individuals from a wider range of backgrounds to qualify as solicitors.

Overall, the SQE represents a significant change to the traditional route to qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales, impacting both law and non-law graduates. By introducing a more standardised and flexible assessment process, the SRA aims to ensure that all solicitors are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to deliver high-quality legal services to their clients.

What Topics Are Covered During the SQE?

The SQE assessment is divided into two key parts. These are SQE1 and SQE2.

SQE1

The SQE1 assessment is divided into two separate examinations, known as Functioning Legal Knowledge 1 (FLK1) and Functioning Legal Knowledge 2 (FLK2). Each part focuses on different areas of law, reflecting the broad scope of knowledge required for a solicitor.

Here’s how they differ:

FLK1

FLK1 tests candidates on the following areas:

  1. Business Law and Practice: This section covers the essentials of business structures, the legal obligations and responsibilities in business operations, and typical transactions.
  2. Dispute Resolution: Focuses on the civil litigation process, including pre-trial procedures, trial, and post-trial actions, as well as alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
  3. Contract Law: Involves the principles and rules governing the formation, operation, and termination of contracts.
  4. Tort Law: This includes the legal principles governing torts such as negligence, trespass, and nuisance.
  5. Legal Services: Covers the basics of providing legal services, including considerations for cost and funding, client care, and the strategic approach to case management.
  6. Constitutional and Administrative Law and EU Law and The Legal System: This area deals with the framework of the UK government, the functions of its institutions, and the influence of European Union law on domestic legislation.

FLK2

FLK2, on the other hand, covers:

  1. Property Practice: This section examines the laws related to the ownership, buying, selling, and leasing of real estate and land.
  2. Land Law: Covers the application of core legal principles and rules in relation to registered and unregistered land, interests in land, freehold and leasehold estates, landlord and tenant issues and co-ownership.
  3. Trusts: Includes the application of law in relation to express and implied trusts, fiduciary relationships, trustees’ duties, powers and liabilities, and equitable remedies.
  4. Wills and the Administration of Estates: Tests knowledge on wills, probate process, and issues related to estate administration.
  5. Solicitors Accounts: Focuses on the rules and practices related to managing client funds and law firm accounts.
  6. Criminal Law and Practice: Covers the principles, procedures, and practices essential to criminal law, including the study of specific criminal offences.

Ethics and Professional Conduct

This is examined across all subject areas in FLK1 and FLK2 and is considered a pervasive topic. Questions will assess knowledge of professional responsibilities, ethical dilemmas and conduct issues that might arise for solicitors in practice.

The division into FLK1 and FLK2 ensures that the SQE1 comprehensively covers the key domains of legal knowledge needed for effective practice as a solicitor, testing both the breadth and depth of understanding across major areas of law.

The SQE1 Assessment: Legal Knowledge

The SQE1 assessment is the first major hurdle for those aiming to qualify as solicitors in England and Wales through the Solicitors Qualifying Examination route. It is designed to evaluate Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK), ensuring that candidates have a comprehensive understanding of core legal principles and the ability to apply this knowledge in practice. Here’s a detailed look at what the SQE1 involves:

Structure and Format

SQE1 consists of two separate tests, FLK1 and FLK2. Each test comprises 180 multiple-choice questions (MCQs), designed to assess candidates’ legal knowledge across various subject areas. Each FLK is split into two sessions, comprising 90 questions per session. The questions require candidates to apply legal principles to practical scenarios, demonstrating not only recall but critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Intermediate Apprenticeships

The intermediate apprenticeship is for school leavers who haven’t pursued A levels. The entry criteria include having five GCSEs with grades ranging from 9 to 4 (A* to C), or their equivalents. This apprenticeship focuses on developing the skills necessary to help manage cases at an administrative level. Typically, the duration of this course is between 15 and 21 months.

Examination Content

As detailed previously, FLK1 and FLK2 cover distinct areas of law:

  • FLK1: Focuses on Business Law and Practice, Dispute Resolution, Contract Law, Tort Law, Constitutional and Administrative Law and EU Law, The Legal System and aspects of providing legal services. Ethics and Professional Conduct pervades.
  • FLK2: Concentrates on Property Practice, Wills and the Administration of Estates, Land Law, Trusts, Solicitors Accounts, Criminal Law and Practice. Ethics and Professional Conduct pervades.

Each area within these tests requires candidates to integrate their knowledge with practical application, relevant to the day-to-day tasks of a solicitor.

Assessment Objectives

The primary objective of SQE1 is to confirm that candidates possess:

  • A foundational understanding of key legal principles.
  • The ability to apply basic legal knowledge to given scenarios.
  • Critical analytical skills necessary to interpret and solve legal problems.

Preparation for SQE1

Preparation for SQE1 is crucial due to the breadth of topics covered and the depth of understanding required. Most candidates will benefit from structured study programs offered by various education providers. These preparation courses typically include comprehensive study materials, practice questions, and mock exams that mimic the format of the actual test.

Taking the Exam

SQE1 has two sittings per year: January and July. Candidates can sit the assessments at many locations, both within the UK and internationally. Assessments take place at Pearson Vue Centres. Each session of FLK1 and FLK2 is completed on a single day, with a few days typically scheduled between the two FLK assessments  to allow candidates some rest.

Scoring and Passing

The passing score for SQE1 is set by the SRA and is subject to a process called standard setting, where the difficulty of each question is considered. Results are provided 5-6 weeks after the exam. Candidates must pass both FLK1 and FLK2 to proceed to the next stage of the SQE, passing the SQE2.

Importance of SQE1

Passing the SQE1 is crucial as it forms the foundational certification of legal knowledge and understanding for prospective solicitors. Without clearing this first step, candidates cannot progress towards the practical assessments of SQE2.

By effectively preparing for and passing the SQE1, candidates move one step closer to achieving their goal of becoming a solicitor, equipped with the legal knowledge essential for further training and professional development.

The SQE 2 Assessment: Application of Knowledge in Practical Situations

The SQE2 assessment is the second and final exam component of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination route, designed to assess the practical application of legal knowledge in real-world scenarios. This part of the SQE tests a candidate’s ability to perform the tasks required of a qualified solicitor under simulated conditions. Here’s a detailed look at what the SQE2 involves:

Structure and Format

SQE2 is an assessment of practical legal skills, including client interviewing, advocacy,, case and matter analysis, legal research, legal writing, and legal drafting. The format is skills-based and involves a series of objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs), where candidates demonstrate their skills in simulated legal environments.

Examination Content

The SQE2 covers five practice areas, aligning with the FLK1 and FLK2 topics from SQE1:

  1. Property Practice
  2. Wills and Intestacy, Probate Administration and Practice
  3. Criminal Litigation
  4. Dispute Resolution
  5. Business Organisations, Rules and Procedures

Candidates are required to apply their legal knowledge from these areas in practical tasks that mimic the work of a solicitor. Each skill is tested in the context of at least two different practice areas, ensuring a well-rounded assessment of the candidate’s capabilities, whether they come from a qualifying law degree background or not.

Assessment Objectives

The primary objectives of SQE2 are to evaluate the candidate’s ability to:

  • Apply legal knowledge effectively in practical scenarios.
  • Demonstrate professional skills in communication, both written and oral.
  • Handle legal documents and processes with accuracy and proficiency.
  • Provide effective client services under simulated conditions.

Preparation for SQE2

Given its focus on practical skills, preparing for SQE2 involves hands-on practice and familiarity with typical solicitor tasks. Many candidates engage in preparation courses that include mock assessments, feedback from experienced legal professionals, and opportunities to practice in simulated environments. This training is crucial to develop the confidence and competence needed to succeed.

Taking the Exam

SQE2 has four sittings per year. The assessment consists of 16 ‘stations’ which are spread over several days, given the comprehensive nature of the skills testing. Candidates can take the written assessments at Pearson Vue centers across the UK and at select international locations. Candidates can only take the oral assessments in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff.

Scoring and Passing

The SRA sets a standard pass mark for SQE2, based on the performance required for entry-level solicitors. The test is pass/fail, and candidates receive their results 14-18weeks after completing the assessment. Passing SQE2 is a critical step towards qualification, requiring a demonstration of both proficiency and professionalism in legal practice.

Importance of SQE2

Passing the SQE2 is essential for completing the qualification process as a solicitor. It ensures that candidates not only understand the law but can also apply it effectively in practical contexts, fulfilling the SRA’s competency framework. This assessment confirms that the aspiring solicitor is ready to handle the responsibilities of legal practice and serve clients effectively.

By successfully passing both the SQE1 and SQE2, along with completing the required qualifying work experience, candidates can proceed to qualify as solicitors in England and Wales, marking the culmination of a rigorous assessment of their legal knowledge and skills.

SQE Assessment: Dates, Locations and How to Book

SQE1 is held twice a year and SQE2 is held four times per year. Candidates can book their exams through the SRA’s designated SQE portal. Examination centres are available across the UK, and in some overseas locations, providing flexibility for international candidates.

SQE 1: Exam Dates, Locations and How to Book

The SQE1 exams are scheduled to take place twice a year: January and July. This allows candidates flexibility in planning and preparation. For specific dates, candidates should refer to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) website, which provides the most current and detailed information.

Locations

Exam locations for SQE1 are available both within the UK and at various international sites, catering to a wide range of candidates globally. This geographical spread helps accommodate candidates from different regions, reducing travel barriers and allowing more aspiring solicitors to take the exam.

How to Book

Booking for the SQE1 exam is done through the SRA’s dedicated SQE portal. Candidates need to create an account on the portal, where they can also find additional details about the exam, including fees and the booking process. It is important for candidates planning to take the SQE to book their examination slots early, as spaces can fill up quickly due to high demand. The portal also provides necessary details about payment methods, cancellation policies, and what to expect on the exam day.

Candidates are advised to frequently check the SRA website for any updates or changes to exam dates, locations, and booking procedures, ensuring they are well-prepared and informed ahead of their scheduled exam session.

SQE 2: Exam Dates, Locations and How to Book

The SQE2 exams are held four times per year:January, April, July and October. This schedule offers candidates flexibility in timing their exams according to their readiness and completion of the SQE1 exam.

Locations

SQE2 testing locations are available across the UK and in selected international venues for the 12 written assessments. These sites are strategically chosen to accommodate the practical assessment nature of SQE2, which requires specific settings for the skills tests. This accessibility helps ensure that candidates from various regions can find a convenient location to take their exams without the need for extensive travel. The four oral assessments are only examined in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff.

How to Book

Booking for the SQE2 exam is managed through the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)’s official SQE portal, similar to the SQE1. Candidates need to log in to their SRA account on the portal, where they can access the booking section for SQE2. The portal provides detailed information on available exam dates and locations, along with instructions on how to register and make payments.

It’s advisable for candidates to book as early as possible once the booking window opens, as slots can be limited due to the nature of the practical assessments involved in SQE2. The SRA website and portal will also have the most current information on the booking process, exam fees, cancellation policies, and what candidates need to bring on the day of the exam.

Candidates are encouraged to keep themselves updated by regularly visiting the SRA website for any announcements or changes related to the SQE2 exam dates, locations, and booking procedures. This proactive approach ensures they are well-prepared and can plan accordingly for their assessment.

How Much Will the SQE Cost?

Qualifying as a solicitor through the SQE route involves several costs, primarily associated with the examinations and preparation courses. Here’s an overview of the fees you can expect:

SQE1 Assessment Fees

The fee for the SQE1 assessment is £1,888. This fee covers the cost of both FLK1 and FLK2 exams, which test your functioning legal knowledge through multiple-choice questions.

SQE2 Assessment Fees

For the SQE2, which assesses your practical legal skills through simulations of real legal scenarios, the fee is £2,902. This part of the assessment is more expensive due to the nature of the skills testing and the resources required to administer practical exams.

Additional Costs

It is important to note that these fees are strictly for the solicitors qualifying exam itself and do not include any preparatory courses you might undertake. Preparation course costs can vary significantly based on the provider, the depth of the course, and the format (online vs. in-person). These courses are highly recommended to ensure you are well-prepared for both exams, covering both the breadth of legal knowledge and the depth of practical skills tested.

Breakdown of Possible Additional Costs:

SQE Preparation Courses

Depending on the provider and course format, you could expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand pounds. Comprehensive courses that include materials, mock exams, and extensive tutor support tend to be at the higher end of this range.

Study Materials

While some preparation courses include all necessary materials, you may need to purchase additional study materials, subscriptions, or practice tests, particularly if you choose to study independently.

Travel and Accommodation

If you do not live near a testing centre, you may also need to budget for travel and potentially accommodation, as both SQE1 and SQE2 might require attendance at specific locations.

Retake Fees

If you need to retake either part of the exam, you will need to pay the exam fees again, so it’s advantageous to prepare thoroughly the first time around.

Overall Financial Planning

Given the substantial costs, it’s important for candidates to plan financially for the entire SQE process. Some candidates may be sponsored by law firms, which often cover the costs of exams and preparation courses as part of their recruitment and training programmes. Others may need to consider personal funding options, scholarships, or bursaries available through educational institutions or legal charities.

Understanding the full cost of qualifying as a solicitor through the SQE route is crucial for effective preparation and financial planning, ensuring that all aspiring solicitors can manage the investment required to enter the profession.

SQE Pass Rates

The SQE pass rates provide important feedback on the overall difficulty of the exams and the effectiveness of preparation methods. These rates are published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) after each examination cycle. Typically, the pass rates for SQE1, which assesses functioning legal knowledge through multiple-choice questions, show variability based on the exam session and the cohort of candidates. The statistical data released from the SRA shows a pass rate of 51-53% for SQE1. SQE2, which tests practical legal skills, also displays varied pass rates, reflecting the challenges of demonstrating competent legal practice under exam conditions. The statistical data released from the SRA shows a pass rate of 75-77% for SQE2.

These statistics are crucial for candidates as they help to set realistic expectations and tailor preparation strategies accordingly. Monitoring these rates also allows us and training providers to update our course content and teaching techniques to better prepare future candidates for success.

What SQE Preparation Courses are Available?

A range of SQE preparation courses are offered by numerous training providers, including law schools and private course providers. These courses are designed to prepare candidates for both SQE1 and SQE2 assessments.

A non-exhaustive list of SQE course providers includes (in no particular order of preference):

  1. BARBRI (SQE)
  2. BPP University Law School (SQE)
  3. Coventry Law School (SQE)
  4. De Montfort University (SQE)
  5. Manchester Metropolitan University Law School (SQE)
  6. Nottingham Law School (SQE)
  7. The City Law School (SQE)
  8. The College of Legal Practice (SQE)
  9. The University of Law (SQE)
  10. University of Aberdeen School of Law (SQE)

How Do I Qualify as a Solicitor with SQE?

To qualify as a solicitor through the SQE route, candidates must:
  1. Pass both SQE1 and SQE2 assessments.
  2. Complete two years of qualifying work experience.
  3. Meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements.
By following this guide, prospective solicitors can navigate the SQE pathway with clarity and confidence, understanding the requirements and steps needed to achieve their career goals in the legal field.

The SQE and QWE

What Does Qualifying Legal Work Experience Mean?

Qualifying legal work experience is an essential requirement for becoming a solicitor under the SQE framework. Candidates must complete at least two years of qualifying work experience, which can be accrued in up to four different legal settings. This requirement is designed to ensure that aspiring solicitors gain practical, hands-on experience in the legal field, applying their theoretical knowledge to real-world situations. The work experience can be obtained in various environments, including law firms, in-house legal departments, law clinics, or other approved organisations, which can help you in your career as a solicitor. This breadth of potential settings allows candidates to experience different aspects of legal practice and develop a well-rounded skill set. Such experience is crucial not just for meeting the SQE qualifications but also for preparing candidates for the diverse challenges of a legal career.

SQE Exemptions

SQE1 Exemptions:

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is designed to provide a unified route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales. However, there are specific exemptions available for certain parts of the SQE1 assessment, primarily for those who have already demonstrated comparable legal knowledge through other qualifications.

Who Can Qualify for SQE1 Exemptions?

Qualified Lawyers

Lawyers qualified in jurisdictions outside England and Wales or within may apply for exemptions based on their existing qualifications and experience. These exemptions are granted if their professional qualifications cover the same substantive content as the SQE1.

Graduates of Recognised Law Degrees

Graduates who have completed a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD) or a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) in England and Wales might be eligible for exemptions if their university courses covered the requisite areas of legal knowledge to a sufficient depth. However, as of the latest updates, full exemptions are not generally available, and all candidates are advised to verify with the SRA.

Legal Professionals with Other UK Qualifications

Those with certain UK legal qualifications, such as Chartered Legal Executives and LPC Graduates might be eligible for exemptions depending on the overlap of their course content with the SQE1 syllabus.

How to Apply for Exemptions

Candidates seeking exemptions must apply directly to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The application should include:

  • Proof of qualifications.
  • Detailed syllabi or transcripts demonstrating coverage of SQE1 content.
  • Evidence of practical experience, if applicable.

The SRA evaluates these applications on a case-by-case basis, ensuring that the applicant’s prior learning or experience matches the competencies tested in SQE1. This process involves a thorough review of educational and professional credentials against the SQE1 syllabus.

Important Considerations

While exemptions can shorten the pathway to qualification, candidates should carefully consider whether they should bypass any part of the SQE. The assessments are designed not only to test knowledge but also to prepare candidates for the practical realities of soliciting. Therefore, even those eligible for exemptions may benefit from reviewing the full SQE1 material to ensure comprehensive preparation.

Candidates are encouraged to consult the SRA’s official website for the most current information on eligibility criteria for SQE1 exemptions and the application process. This will provide the most accurate and relevant guidelines to help in making informed decisions regarding their qualification journey.

SQE2 Exemptions

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) framework is designed to ensure that all candidates demonstrate the same standard of competence before qualifying as solicitors in England and Wales. Unlike SQE1, which may offer some exemptions for qualified lawyers or those with overlapping qualifications, SQE2 has stricter criteria due to its focus on practical legal skills.

To gain an SQE2 exemption, you must show that you have the skills and legal knowledge assessed and applied to the same standard as candidates taking the SQE2. This is done through a review of the candidate’s qualification(s) or professional legal work experience, or a combination of both.

Qualified lawyers holding a professional legal qualification which confers rights to practise in England and Wales or in another Jurisdiction, could be eligible for an SQE2 exemption. The SRA website has a helpful drop-down list where you can input the jurisdiction where you are qualified, and the SRA will advise which exemptions could apply. If your jurisdiction is not on the list, you are encouraged to make an individual application to the SRA.

Advice for Candidates

Candidates, especially those with significant legal experience or qualifications from other jurisdictions, should focus on preparing thoroughly for SQE2. This might include enrolling in preparatory courses that focus on the specific skills tested in SQE2 and familiarising themselves with the format of the practical assessments.

For the most current and detailed information regarding SQE2 and any potential updates to the policy on exemptions, candidates should regularly consult the SRA’s official website. This will ensure they have the latest guidance and can plan their qualification path accordingly.

SQE FAQ

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is a new route to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales, replacing the Legal Practice Course (LPC). The SQE is divided into two stages, SQE1 and SQE2, focusing on legal knowledge and legal skills respectively.

Preparation for the SQE assessment can involve either self study or enrolling in a preparation course specifically designed for the SQE, which covers the necessary content and skills needed to pass the exam.

To  qualify as a solicitor through the SQE, candidates need to pass both SQE1 and SQE2, complete the required amount of qualifying work experience, and meet all the other qualification criteria set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Anyone who falls within the LPC transitional requirements will need to qualify as a solicitor by 31 December 2032 under the LPC route.

The new SQE route focuses on ‘functioning legal knowledge’ and aims to provide a more structured and standardised process for individuals to become solicitors. It also eliminates the need for the LPC and the traditional training contract and introduces a more flexible approach to gaining qualifying work experience.

Passing the SQE requires a combination of thorough SQE preparation, dedication to studying legal knowledge and legal skills, and practical application of concepts. The SQE pass rates can vary, and it’s important to stay informed about the exam success statistics.

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