An independent assessment, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), is to be introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), and is intended to ensure all solicitors meet consistent, high standards at the point of entry to the profession. The SQE will replace the current system of qualification which consists of multiple courses and examinations. The implementation date will be, at the earliest, September 2020, in order to give all affected parties sufficient time to prepare.
The new qualification will have four elements. To qualify as a solicitor, candidates will need to:
- have passed SQE stages 1 and 2 to demonstrate they have the right knowledge and skills
- have been awarded a degree or an equivalent qualification, or have gained equivalent experience
- have completed at least two years of qualifying legal work experience
- be of satisfactory character and suitability
More confidence and wider access
Support for the principle of an independent assessment has come from the public and from groups such as the Law Society, Legal Services Consumer Panel and Junior Lawyers Division.
The SRA says the SQE is also designed to help widen access to the profession, and help validate different routes to qualification, including ‘earn as you learn’ pathways such as apprenticeships.
The SQE structure will introduce a more flexible approach to a period of work-based experience, addressing the training contract bottleneck. It will also, the SRA says, get rid of the current problem where many would-be solicitors have to take the ‘Legal Practice Course gamble’ by paying large up-front costs, often up to £15,000, with no guarantee of a training contract or becoming a solicitor.
‘Giving candidates from all backgrounds a fair opportunity to qualify’
Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said:
‘We all need to be able to trust that those who enter the profession are fit to practise. The current system cannot provide that confidence. The new SQE will provide assurance that all those who qualify, regardless of pathway or background, meet the consistent high standards we set on behalf of the public.'
‘It will help law firms recruit the best talent, while still giving them flexibility to tailor training to their businesses’ needs. It will help the best education providers to show just how good they are, and give candidates, from all backgrounds, a fair opportunity to qualify. And it will meet public expectations that all solicitors take the same exam and meet the same high professional standards.’
‘Encouraging people from diverse backgrounds is a priority for the Law Society’
In its response to the SRA’s announcement, the Law Society says it strongly supports centralised assessment to ensure all solicitors meet consistent high standards, but insists the new system must be realistic regarding work experience.
Law Society President Robert Bourns, said:
‘We will judge these reforms on the impact on accessibility and standards. Encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to become solicitors has long been a priority for the Law Society. Accessibility to the profession and promotion of the highest standards of qualification must be paramount.’
‘We have strongly suggested that the SRA ensures the final SQE proposals meet government funding criteria and that the SRA should take steps to liaise with government as part of their work developing proposals.’
After full implementation, candidates who have already started working towards qualifying to be a solicitor will have the choice of which route to follow—ie the existing route or the SQE—for a number of years. The SRA will consult on these transitional arrangements later this year.