The SQE Uncovered

What is the SQE?

The SQE is the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam that will replace the LPC and GDL.

The exam will be in two stages: SQE1, which tests general legal knowledge, and SQE2 which will test more practical based skills.

What’s all the fuss about?

The SQE will be a big change from the GDL and LPC. The exam style will be very different from standard school and university exams, focusing on Multiple Choice Questions rather than essay style/application based questions. At the moment its official launch date will be in Autumn 2021, which is when the GDL will end. The LPC will be available for everyone until 2023, although people on certain routes will be able to complete the LPC up until 2031. However, this isn’t a given: law firms may start to ask for the SQE instead of the LPC during this transition period to make sure all intakes have an equal footing.

Only have a minute? Here are the top five things you need to know:

  1. The SQE will launch in Autumn 2021.

2. The SQE will assess six fundamental legal knowledge areas:

  • public admin
  • contract
  • tort
  • criminal
  • business
  • estates, land, trust

3. The first live assessments will have been piloted so students won’t be guinea pigs

4. LLBs at universities will largely stay the same, although newer and non-Russell group universities may look to introduce ‘SQE-compliant’ law degrees.

5. The GDL will end in 2021 – after this you will sit the SQE1 in place of a GDL.

What does this mean for non-law graduates?

There is concern as to whether the SQE1 will give a non-law student enough knowledge to compete against law students in the legal arena. As a result, law firms are discussing introducing a new kind of GDL to make sure non-law students are up to scratch. There will be extended SQE-1 preparation for non-law graduates, but many firms are still concerned this will not be enough to prepare non-law students for their training. Leading magic circle firm Linklaters stated that they still want to recruit a 50:50 ratio from law students and non-law students, and that making sure that non-law students aren’t at a disadvantage will be a priority in the roll out of new programmes.

Are training contracts really a thing of the past?

Not at all. You will still have to do 24 months of practical experience, but the difference here with the SQE is that it doesn’t have to be a training contract. It is expected that most large firms will still offer the traditional training contract route, whilst other eligible areas of work experience such as working as an apprentice or paralegal or at a student law clinic will be counted.

What do we know about the SQE2?

The SQE2 will assess practical skills much like that of the LPC. At the moment, there is concern over the loss of LPC electives choice and how this will fare for incoming trainees at firms who haven’t had a chance to specialise in the firm’s top areas. However, the syllabus for the SQE2 has not yet been set in stone, and as law firms and schools have voiced this issue there may be a chance to choose practice areas rather than everyone being assessed in all the same skills regardless of what kind of law they will be going into.


Top concerns right now:

The personal skills course will be disappearing so firms are conscious that there may need to be an extended trainee induction and development programme tailored by the law firms themselves to fill in the gaps that the SQE has missed.

There is a preference among law firms is for law schools to design preparation programmes, as although you can complete the SQE1 and SQE2 inline with work experience, there is doubt over how well current lawyers could teach incoming lawyers. Patrick McCann, Head of global learning at Linklaters, stated that there were huge differences between lawyers and educators, and that relying on law firms to get trainees through the SQE1 and SQE2 suggests they have people who have the will, capability and time to turn down client work in order to teach trainees instead.


Overall, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the SQE. The final specifications are due to come out in 2020, and we will know a lot more then, but with law firms and schools making sure they are heavily involved in the process it is likely that the final version will look a lot better and have covered a lot of issues that have been raised over the past year.


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