From September 2021, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), will no longer be compulsory and over time will be replaced with a range of new preparatory courses for the new Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Until 2021, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) remains the mandatory vocational stage of training to be a solicitor. From 2021 onwards, the LPC will be replaced by a new system, the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE):
- Anyone starting a LLB or GDL after this date MUST follow the SQE route.
- Students who have already started an LLB or GDL (on or before 31 August 2021) can still choose either the LPC or SQE route, including those students who have confirmed they want to defer a place, as long as they’ve accepted an offer by 31 August 2021.
However, the LPC will remain valid as a qualification until as late as 2031, so LPC graduates will still be able to apply for trainee solicitor roles after the SQE is introduced.
As summarised on the University of Law’s Blog ‘Understanding the SQE and what it means for me’, the new process is as follows:
1. Undergraduate degree or equivalent
To become a solicitor, all applicants must either have an undergraduate degree, or equivalent experience, to study at degree level (for example, by completing a degree level apprenticeship). Importantly, a qualifying law degree will no longer have any special meaning for the process, but it should help candidates prepare for some of the SQE assessments.
2. SQE stage 1 – Legal Knowledge
All applicants will have to sit and pass SQE Stage 1, whatever degree or other qualifications they have already. SQE Stage 1 will mainly assess your legal knowledge through multiple-choice examinations. You must complete SQE stage 1 before progressing to SQE stage 2.
3. SQE stage 2 – Core Skills
Again, all applicants will have to sit these assessments, regardless of existing qualifications. SQE Stage 2 will assess your legal skills through practical examinations and assessments.
4. Qualifying work experience
You’ll need to complete a minimum of two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE), which can be with up to four different legal employers (and could include appropriate pro bono experience). You can do this during, before or after completing your SQE assessments, although we expect that in most cases candidates will have successfully completed at least SQE stage 1 before starting their main period of QWE.
5. Apply to the SRA for qualification
The SRA will complete quality and suitability checks only at this stage of the process to determine whether you are eligible to become a solicitor. (Under the current process these checks are done before starting the training contract phase.)
SQE Preparatory Courses
- There is NO prescribed or recommended way to prepare for SQE exams – it is entirely up to the individual student how they want to prepare. It is anticipated that most students will choose some course of further study/preparatory course to help them. Training providers have adapted their conversion courses and LPC programmes to accommodate preparation and assessment of the SQE.
- Applications for GDL and LPC courses are made via the Central Applications Board.
- Should I do the LPC or wait for the SQE? – The SRA has come up with a quick and useful guide to help you decide the best option for you.
Until 2021, if you studied a non-law degree at university and want to become a solicitor or barrister, you must take a conversion course known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). When the SQE is introduced, prospective solicitors will no longer need a law degree or GDL to qualify.
There is currently no prescribed conversion course for non-law students, although most training providers are offering a rebranded GDL as a MA in Law.
Technically, anyone with a university degree (or equivalent) can attempt the SQE assessments without undertaking any legal training first (as long as they can afford the exam fees totalling around £4,500). But the SQE is not a course – it is just a series of exams. This means that, in reality, people with no previous legal training will be very unlikely to pass the SQE. The GDL and other, similar law conversion courses will therefore continue to be a necessary stage of the journey for many non-law graduates.
Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
The training contract, or period of qualifying work experience, is the final stage on the path to qualifying as a solicitor. It involves a two-year period spent working at a law firm or other organisation that employs solicitors. From 2021, as part of the new SQE system, candidates must still complete two years of qualifying work experience (QWE) to qualify as solicitors, but this can now be completed in up to four separate placements at different firms and other organisations. Rules have also been relaxed about when QWE is undertaken, so it is possible to gain QWE both before and after taking some of the SQE assessments.
However, many firms will still want their trainees to complete a significant period of work experience with them alone before they can progress to solicitor/associate level. Firms have different ways of working and varied specialisms, so in many cases it will still be important to complete on-the-job training in order to be ready to practise. This means that the traditional training contract is probably here to stay, especially at larger firms.
Many of the large firms recruit two years in advance for trainees, so start applying for training contracts from second year onwards if you study Law or in your LPC year if you’re a non-Law student. However, if you’re not successful at this point you can keep trying. You can search for training contracts on LawCareers.Net or the AllAboutLaw websites.
Paralegal work is a good entry point into the legal profession for many university graduates. It is also possible to qualify as a solicitor through working as a paralegal (so without the need for a training contract). For more information, LawCareers.net has a feature called, Paralegal work: a guide for future solicitors.