sqe award

In an unexpected stipulation, diplomas must be cute animals which make everyone 'SQEEEEEE!'

The Legal Services Board has finally given a (qualified, slightly reluctant) green light to the SRA's proposed replacement for the GDL and the LPC, clearing the path for the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination on 1 September 2021.

Nine years in the making, the SQE revolutionises how solicitors will qualify. 

The examination component does away with separate exams for each subject area. Instead, 'SQE1' will comprise two sets of 180 multiple choice questions designed to assess legal knowledge, while 'SQE2' will assess practical legal skills such as drafting, research and case analysis in 12 written exercises. 

Candidates will not need a law degree, or even a non-law degree, if they have an "equivalent qualification" or an apprenticeship comprising "equivalent experience".

In a significant change from the current system, their two years of 'qualifying work experience' (QWE) will not have to be completed as a block two year training contract with a single provider. Instead, candidates can work at up to four appropriate places, which will include student law clinics and pro bono projects. 

Lending further flexibility to the process, all elements can be completed in any order, except that SQE1 must precede SQE2.

The proposals for the exam element met with fierce criticism during their gestation. The Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society said changes such as dropping the requirement for a law degree or a GDL, and relying on multiple-choice questions, would "damage both our reputation internationally and water down the quality of the profession".

Critics had also queried whether it was right that a candidate with poor English language skills could incur costs passing SQE1, only to be scuppered by the written element of SQE2.

"We want to make sure everyone has a fair shot at qualifying", countered Julie Brannan, Director of Education and Training at the SRA, and a written skills test "could exclude capable candidates, who with more training and professional experience, could develop the right skills to become good solicitors". Ultimately, she said "nobody will qualify if they can’t show they have the right legal skills.”

Welcoming the LSB's approval, Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA, said the SQE "will provide assurance that all aspiring solicitors meet consistent, high standards at point of entry to the profession. It will also open up new and diverse routes to qualification".

The LSB’s endorsement was more muted. “We have approved the SRA's application because there are no grounds for refusal", said Dr Helen Philips, Chair of the LSB. Philips conceded that "if the regulator follows through on its commitments", the SQE would "benefit people who need legal services", although she also warned that the SQE "is untested, however, and not without risk".

A decision on whether to approve the SQE was delayed by two months while the LSB, which oversees the SRA, probed its proposal and extracted various extra undertakings. Those included an assurance that the SRA would commission independent research into the reason why some protected minority groups did not perform as well as other groups on the SQE pilots, an issue which generated controversy in 2019 when the SRA floated the possibility of dropping all written elements of the SQE to address the discrepancy.

The LSB also required the SRA to tighten up its QWE proposals to prevent poor treatment of candidates, by building in "additional safeguards" and more extensive monitoring of "how things are working in reality".

The JLD said it was “disappointing” that the LSB had approved the application when there appeared to be “substantial reliance on assurances provided by the SRA in relation to unpublished guidance”, and that it seemed as if the first few cohorts of candidates to sit the SQE “will effectively be taking part in an amended pilot”.

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Fred Shred 30 October 20 09:42

I was one of the last who did the old LSF (Law Society Finals) exams, in 1991.  13 subjects, covered fully.  All end of year, closed book, written exams.  3 exams a day, back to back for 6 days, no cissy breaks.  You didn't sleep, obviously.  Pass mark 50%. All questions set had to be answered (no selecting your best questions).  Get below 45% in 2 and you had to re-sit the lot.  Even when they moved it to min 2.1 law degree for entry, still a 40%+ failure rate.  

Nobody cared about your "feelings".  Pass them or STFU.  Maintaining high standards mattered more than dumbing down.  

The LPC represented a softening from the French Foreign Legion approach of the LSF, but it was still a credible set of exams.

But this PC "everyone's a winner" crap?  J**** wept.  Maybe they should hand out professional exam certs in cornflakes packets?  I'm embarrassed to be associated with the future "lawyers" of England & Wales. 


Anonymous 30 October 20 09:46

Isn’t the problem with all this that, while somebody who has spent 2 years working in pro bono centres could theoretically become a solicitor, which firm in practice is ever going to hire someone as a solicitor who has had no formal training?

Seems a bit like the “do the NY bar and QLTT to avoid a training contract” loop hole that everyone was talking about a few years ago. It may technically work, but any firm will see through it and nobody will hire you.

The goal of qualifying as a solicitor is to be able to practice as a solicitor, otherwise it’s just a meaningless and expensive title.

Anonymous 30 October 20 09:56

Hopefully that embarrassment will see you leave the profession. It is just that sort of snobbery and change resistance that gives the industry a bad name, not to mention perpetuating the issues this change seeks to address.

Hahaha 30 October 20 10:00

Yes Fred - because standards of people qualifying before 1991 were so much higher - nobody has worked with useless 60 something partners who have coasted through on white male privilege and a lack of competition.......

You really need a reality check if you think the current system is "everyone's a winner" - even candidates with 2:i from some of the World's best universities aren't guaranteed a training contract these days and when you get there is seriously hard work.  None of this swanning in at 9, sending a letter and waiting three days for it to come back! 

anonymous 30 October 20 10:08

As a non-qualified lawyer who began as a legal secretary and has worked non-stop for nearly 40 years, working my way up to a fee earning position (with numerous training courses taken en route and working under the supervision of some very competent senior lawyers), I am interested in this.  I left school at 16. I am now a partner in my firm but I'm always conscious that I don't have a degree, I haven't followed any formal training route, and I need to work subject under the supervision of my principals at all times.  This exam would give someone like me a chance to qualify. I would hope that the process is rigorous and is not just an easy route to qualification.

Anonymous 30 October 20 10:16

"Critics had also queried whether it was right that a candidate with poor English language skills could incur costs passing SQE1, only to be scuppered by the written element of SQE2."


Isn't that just the territory which comes with taking exams? e.g. Critics queried whether it was right that a candidate with awful knowledge of commercial law could incur costs passing the land law exam, only to be scuppered by the commercial law exam.

Some people just like to moan.

Anonymous 30 October 20 10:25


Wow. AGAIN someone moaning about white male privilege on ROF's comments boards. This is happening every week.

Stop framing everything like its whites vs ethnic minorities. It is creating an absolutely unnecessary divide.

Just FYI, I'm from a working class middle eastern heritage and have done just fine by working hard.

Anonymous 30 October 20 10:51

The SQE will pure and simple just let in more more lazy layabouts and incompetent students who end up with a qualification which is meaningless in the reality of hiring.

If there’s no robust exam to sift out the thickos  it will just be done at the NQ recruitment stage, and we’ll find ourselves with an over saturation of people who have “qualified solicitor” in their bio an absolutely nothing to show for it.

The diverse candidate base that the SRA is hoping to put through qualification will just have the door slammed on them when they come to recruitment and have nothing but a flimsy exam and 2 years of voluntary work to show their suitability for an NQ role.

anon 30 October 20 11:19

@ 10.25- well anon at 10.00 is completely right.

Not just from a white v ethnic minority p.o.v but also a female point of view and a social mobility point of view. We have all worked under 60+ partners that we look at and know they would have never got to the position they are in if they had applied to be a lawyer in the past 10 years with the increased competition and relatively increased ability for more than white posh men to enter the profession.

Anon 30 October 20 12:10

A single central exam does not mean dumbing down, but the opposite.

However what are the odds that (shock horror) some ethnic groups will do worse than others, leading to the assumption that the exam is racially biased, leading to everyone at the SRA running around like headless chickens, and then dumbing it down... I hope that will not happen, but when the Bar Vocational Course was introduced that was pretty much the outcome.

Hassss 30 October 20 12:24

This will be met with the usual reception of law firms “we’ll just stick to what we’ve been doing already and keep the 2 year training contract”.

change was needed but not a circus of multiple choice nonsense. Not yet met a judge who posed a multiple choice question. 

Lydia 30 October 20 12:24

Hopefully the market as ever will decide if people are good or not. Unlike most people on here last week I was looking at multiple choice questions (on the new style GDL which I think are designed also for SQ1.) I think they are pretty easy but as there are other types of questions too (currently for the GDL) it does not really matter.

Anon 30 October 20 13:02

MCQs???? I did the GDL and it was fine. How can you properly test someone's ability at academic law with MCQs. This is utterly insane. 

It's also doing the candidate no favours - if you want to litigate etc you do actually need to know some law. 

The training contract bit is by the by - we could abolish it entirely but you still need some training. A first year in the US isn't left to do deals on their own. 

Lydia 30 October 20 13:43

I don't think it will be an improvement adn if I were a big law firm I would want all exams taken and passed before starting  a TC so some form of GDL/LPC and SQE1 and SQEII exams all done before starting is probably going to happen.

Anon 30 October 20 15:12

@ 10.25

1.  Although you may not have been adversely affected by prejudice in the legal profession, many lawyers (and aspiring lawyers) from minority backgrounds have suffered.  Similarly, just because I’ve never personally experienced sexism, does not mean that sexism in the workplace is overplayed or does not exist.

2. Compare the racial diversity of London against the racial diversity of senior fee earners at most law firms based in London.  You may not like the term “white privilege”, so even putting that to one side, do you not think its rather odd that racial diversity in London ends at the front door at the overwhelming majority of law firms?  Sadly, a refusal to acknowledge or talk about the issue will not make it disappear.

Anonymous 30 October 20 16:01

@15:12 - I wasn't aware that law firms were limiting their recruitment efforts to London alone?

I'd always assumed that they were hiring people from all over the UK, so it wasn't that unreasonable for them to have an ethnic mix that was roughly in line with the nation at large.

But no. Apparently they're limiting themselves to using nets and weighted lures on the streets of Peckham, then throwing accidentally caught BAME people back into the Thames like unwanted mackerel, irrespective of their individual suitability for generating money via the medium of reviewing tedious documents.

Anonymous 30 October 20 16:02

Also, whatever happened to that Lord Lester bounder? Does anyone know if he was cleared by the BSB or not?

Anonymous 30 October 20 19:31

A lot of people paraweasling in no-name firms and pinning their career plans on this are going to be in for a shock when they find this does them as much good as an ILEX did in days gone by. Sucess in law, for better or worse, is all about the name of where you trained not that you somehow managed to get qualified.

Anon 31 October 20 08:43

"BAME" as a whole are represented (in some cases, over represented) in the profession vs the population. This includes black people, who make up 3% of lawyers and 3% of the UK workforce. 

From the SRA website:

There has been an increase in the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers working in law firms, now one in five lawyers. This is up 7%, from 14% in 2014 to 21% in 2017. In 2015, 11% of the UK workforce were BAME.2

This increase is largely due to the rise in Asian lawyers in the profession, up from 9% in 2014 to 14% in 2017.

Black lawyers make up 3%, which has risen by 1% since 2014 and now reflects those in employment in the UK (3%3).

Idontunderstand 31 October 20 16:17

I get the impression that the easier it becomes to qualify then the longer it takes. ‘Back in the day’ I understand that you did not require a degree. Only O-Levels and articles were required but sufficiently few people took O-Levels, and they were tricky, that this was all that was needed for firms to select their candidates. Now many people get top mark A Levels, most get a 2.1 degree, many get top marks at GDL and/or LPC and Masters Degrees are now common. Years ago, qualification was common at 21/22 now the earliest is 24/25 and many I know had to spend a year or two getting relevant experience. The brightest and hardest working (and often the richest!) will always get to the top eventually but all this dumbing down makes it take so much longer to distinguish yourself from the pack. Surely that is actually a block to those from less affluent backgrounds?! Maybe a ridiculously hard year and intense long course with difficult exams at the end, which you can take whenever you like, without or without degree, would be the fairest way?? Maybe that would actually justify the Super Exam title...

Mountain 01 November 20 19:03

SQE is a worthless social engineering project which has at its heart the unevidenced assumption that if you create new, inferior, routes to qualification then (a) more solicitor jobs will be created (they won’t: market demand won’t change, if anything it will worsen as the qualification degrades); and (b) more diverse candidates will get through (they won’t: firms will rightly become more risk adverse, and prefer Oxbridge candidates or rich Singaporeans, etc. for ‘diversity’, to the even greater exclusion of candidates who previous could have demonstrated their ability through clear competition on a simple playing field). It is the new CILEx: created with the intention of widening diversity and qualification into the profession, but ultimately producing a qualification that is less credible than the 'proper' qualification route.

Law firms will become more powerful, because the SRA have eliminated the ‘safe assumptions’ about candidates which could previously have be inferred from the qualifying law degree (“QLD”)/graduate diploma of law (“GDL”), and legal practice course (“LPC”). Any muppet can now purport to jump through SQE1 hoops, then play at doing trivial, notionally legally-related work, and then tick boxes in SQE2. In February 2020, a 15-year-old scored almost 50% in the initial section of the SQE, despite doing no preparation and having no knowledge of the law (www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/childs-play-unprepared-15-year-old-scores-half-marks-in-super-exam/5103230.article). Both the SQE and SRA are a joke.

The solicitor qualification, per se, will be worthless. What will matter - and the *only* thing that will matter - will be the name of the law firm in which people started their careers, both (1) because it will be assumed that experience in Linklaters, A&O, Kirkland & Ellis etc. is *exponentially* more valuable than in ‘Ditcher, Quick & Hyde’ divorce lawyers; and (2) credentialism - the concept that people are judged by certain achievements as a ‘filter’ rather than for their actual value per se - will be even greater (i.e. at the moment, if you have a BCL you stand out, not because you need a BCL to practice, but it’s a useful filter for law firm HR. By eliminating the QLD, GDL and LPC, you will force employers to find substitutes. Oxbridge and US/Magic Circle law firm names on one's CV will be ever more important).

It has long-since been inevitable that the best law firms will simply ignore the SQE, and replicate the existing GDL/LPC. For example, Linklaters, Freshfields, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright and Slaughter and May are working together to do just that: see www.rollonfriday.com/news-content/bpp-thrilled-slew-city-firms-plump-it… and also www.legalcheek.com/2020/05/city-consortiums-non-law-trainees-will-need-to-complete-pre-super-exam-conversation-course. Henceforth, 'proper' solicitors in decent City jobs will be those who go down that, or similar, routes. The 'second-class solicitor' route will be exclusively for those who bought the SRA's SQE snake oil. The latter risk being stuck in a second-class 'jobs ghetto'.

Junior lawyers' future will now be determined by where they train, because the SQE is not up to scratch and the only value will come from the training and credibility offered by the firms. Those who train at sub-par firms will be permanently blocked out from high-end City and commercial law.

What is so perversely tragic is that working class and BAME candidates who are less likely to have access to decent careers advice will be more likely to cluelessly believe the hype that ‘all solicitors are equal’, and that SQE1/2 will put them on the same playing field as US NQs earning £150k. The lack of realistic careers advice is one of main reasons for different levels of achievement now: non-academic middle class children are sensibly deterred from going into law, whereas similarly [un]qualified minority candidates are misled. Sorry kids, the SRA has lied to you, because (a) it was fooled itself by a charlatan who is now seeking to exploit the disaster he’s created himself by becoming a ‘consultant’; and (b) it lacks the courage to admit that it made a mistake. Well done entrenching privilege, and damaging social mobility further, SRA. What a mess.

The SRA’s lobotomised pursuit of the SQE is an immense discredit to it, and it suggests a regulator which is either too incompetent to realise its failure or too arrogant to admit it. This was entirely avoidable. The SRA had correctly recognised that law school quality is highly variable, and that this should be addressed. There was a very simple alternative to the SQE, though: centrally-set and assessed LPC exams. This didn't satisfy the SRA's 'social justice/all must have prizes' political agenda though, so SQE is the result.

curious boy 02 November 20 02:54

Although GDL has been replaced, institutions like BPP still require a non-law student to have completed newly designed course PGDL before taking SQE preparation classes. And all the city law firms have assigned BPP law school to school their upcoming trainees for the SQE exam. Does it make any real difference for non-law students in terms of the time? They will still have to spend almost 2 years on exams/courses (1 year on PGDL and 1 year on SQE preparation course) before they will be able to commence their training contract. 

Anonymous 02 November 20 12:11

Is there actually a problem with BAME under-representation? I come across people of those ethnicities every working day, in fact I would say that at the coal face they probably represent a higher proportion of solicitors than in the general population.

Of course when you look at the profession as a whole, which still (just) includes people who qualified in the 70s, BAME is probably under-represented but I doubt that that is the case for those who have qualified in the last five years.

Anonymous 02 November 20 14:39

"Coal Face"?!

You can't call people that anymore @12:11. This is 2020 not whatever unenlightened dark age you crawled out of.

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