How will the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) affect the legal market?

Natalie Limerick 27.09.2018

In what is an incredibly competitive market, the SQE is being introduced in an attempt to standardise the way that professionals are entering the industry.

The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination

Many legal professionals will agree that the legal industry is extremely competitive in terms of the recruitment market and standards are becoming increasingly more stringent. One way the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is looking to level the playing field is by introducing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). After much deliberation and controversy regarding this new examination, it will be formally introduced in 2020.

The SRA have appointed Kaplan Law School as the assessor and adjudicator for the SQE. They are already providers of the Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme (QLTS) for overseas qualified lawyers seeking to practice in the UK. Together, the SRA and Kaplan will work to finalise the curriculum and structure of this new course.

What will the SQE entail?

The SRA have provided a rough idea of how candidates are expected to qualify as a solicitor - a two stage test will be designed to test knowledge and practical skills. The first stage will cover six key areas of legal knowledge and the second will include in-depth practical sessions, covering topics such as client interviews and legal drafting. Candidates will have to pass both stages to qualify as a solicitor; they must also have a degree or equivalent and two years of relevant legal experience.

The SQE poses many concerns within the legal sector. In The Lawyer, the belief is that the exam “will radically transform the legal educational landscape”, reforming and liberating legal training. This new exam means many paralegals and legal consultants can qualify as solicitors without securing training contracts. Imagine the effect this could have on the market: currently there are already more prospective solicitors than training contracts available.

Are we exasperating this issue? Will we have enough opportunities for the newly qualified solicitors?

Conflicting views at the Future of Legal Education and Training Conference

Richard Moorhead (Chair of Law & Professional Ethics at UCL) doesn’t favour the SQE. At the Future of Legal Education and Training Conference he expressed that no one can say with complete certainty what the effects of the SQE will be and he sensibly suggested that there should be a slow transition into the new qualifying system. At the same conference, Maeve Lavelle (Director of Education & Community Programmes at Neota Logic) favoured the SQE; her belief is that the new exam will help to diversify the legal market.

This diversification was initially the main aim of the new exam: by removing the training contracts provided by the law firms, a new universal way for everyone to qualify is created.

Better standards and more diversity in the sector

The SRA Chief Executive, Paul Philip, reiterates the view that the SQE will increase the standard of legal professionals, as well as promoting diversity. He states, "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.

The change will also benefit legal recruiters as it will increase the quality of talent and create flexibility when trying to tailor candidates to business needs.

Although there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the introduction of the SQE, there is little to no doubt that the ‘super-exam’ will affect the legal market. However, it cannot be said whether this effect will be positive or negative. It will be interesting to see how the newly qualified solicitors succeed in this new legal market.

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