It’s official: The LPC and GDL are being scrapped

Solicitor super-exam will replace traditional routes to qualification as soon as September 2020

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has this morning confirmed it will be scrapping legal education and solicitor qualification as we know it.

Sounding the death knell for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), the regulator will soon be rolling out an independent, centralised assessment, which we’ve nicknamed the solicitor super-exam. It’s anticipated this could happen as early as September 2020.

The SRA believes the new solicitor assessment will guarantee all entrants to the profession “meet consistent, high standards” — just one of many reasons it gives for the introduction of the super-exam. As has long been the regulator’s position, it believes the super-exam will be cheaper for aspiring lawyers and will end what it calls the “LPC gamble”. This is where aspiring solicitors are forced to pay large, up-front costs — as much as £15,740 for students starting the LPC this year — “with no guarantee of a training contract”.

The regulator also believes the new route to qualification will help widen access to the profession, and claims “support for the principle of an independent assessment” comes from groups such as the Law Society and the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD). However, do note that in 2015 then Law Society chief Jonathan Smithers said the super-exam would benefit “wealthier” students and could “promote nepotism”.

More recently, the JLD relayed similar concerns, stating:

At present, as the LPC is compulsory to qualify as a solicitor, banks offer specialist loans to assist students. If the preparatory course will not be compulsory, the JLD is concerned that these loans will be unavailable to students, and only those with sufficient financial means will be able to qualify as a solicitor.

Despite these concerns, the SRA is pushing ahead and will “soon” appoint an assessment organisation for the super-exam (full name the Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE)). For those mid-way through their solicitor qualification, the SRA says you “will have the choice of which route to follow — the existing route or the SQE — for a number of years.”

Though substantive details on the SQE are still thin of the ground, the SRA has proposed what it calls “a possible structure” of the new exam.

A possible structure of the new super-exam

The plan is to split the super-exam into two parts, with part one substantially cheaper than part two. The parts will be divided by a training contract-style period of learning on the job, meaning an aspiring solicitor yet to secure training with a firm will be taking on less financial risk than they are at present with the “LPC gamble”.

The SRA also plans to introduce more flexibility in defining what a training contract actually is; paralegal work, work in a university’s law office and more could soon count towards your solicitor training. Indeed, under the new regime the term ‘training contract’ won’t be used, with the SRA asking instead for “two years of qualifying legal work experience”.

Both law degree and non-law degree holders will be able to sit the exam. It will also be possible for aspiring solicitors going through the apprenticeship route to qualification to sit it too.

Read the report in full below:

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83 Comments

Anonymous

Reading the article would be a good first step:

“the SRA says you “will have the choice of which route to follow — the existing route or the SQE — for a number of years.”

The answer then is that it doesn’t mean anything to you, provided you qualify before the traditional route is closed (which will happen a “number of years” after 2020).

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Anonymous

I imagine someone who has already obtained the LPC, but will not become qualified before the LPC is completely phased (however many “years” that will be), would still not have to “re-sit” for the super-exam. I imagine once the years for phasing out are complete it would just mean the LPC route would no longer be available – rather than invalidate those with LPCs who have not yet qualified.

I am not sure on this, but that would make the most sense to me. Otherwise those who have the LPC and are midway through their training contracts would have to re-sit for the super exam if the LPC becomes completely phased out during their training.

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Anonymous

Nothing as of yet. You will still be able to gain a training contract. Even if you didn’t secure one before 2020 you would not have to sit the super exam instead as you’ve done the necessities. It is only for people who would be sitting the gdl or lpc from 2020 who will be affected by the new exam.

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Anonymous

Hopefully you are right. I cannot imagine doing the LPC, all that time, stress, effort and money… (Did I say money already?!)… and having to do the exam on top of that. As long as I know the LPC never expires and I really hope that I am right!

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Anonymous

It will expire. Not clear if it is by 2020 when the SQE launches or by 2024 though when the transition period ends.

It will also depend heavily on when firms choose to change their processes, as many may not to choose to have the dual programmes running in tandem.

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Anonymous

Surely they will need some pre-SQE qualification for those who have done a non-law degree? If not, I cannot imagine top law firms allowing graduates just to learn on the job, turning up at work knowing nothing. Could this mean that the current system (which allows people to be treated more or less equally irrespective of degree – surely a good thing) may be in peril, with future non-law graduates at a big disadvantage?

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Anonymous

Law firms already allow graduates to learn on the job. The GDL offers very little in the way of preparation for commercial practice.

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Anonymous

I have to say, the fundamentals which I learned on the GDL are necessary for a lot of what I do on a day-to-day basis. I almost never use what I learned on the LPC though.

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Anonymous

So you need a degree (law or non-law) but you can sit this exam with no legal training whatsoever and then go on to a training contract?

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Anonymous

You have to pass the exam. If you do that without formal legal training, then you are the sort of talent that law firms are looking for.

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Anonymous

I’m interested to see just how much cheaper the new super-exam is going to be. Many of my cohort opted to take out huge loans to fund the LPC themselves (though I’ve met some people whose parents have taken out second mortgages to help them pay for it, which is worrying) and don’t seem to be any better off for it unfortunately.

Almost undoubtedly a silly question, but will providers still accept students who have no reasonable prospect of qualification in order to extract a profit?

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Anonymous

Why do you think both BBP and UoL have recently launched their extended GDL LLMs? They will market these courses as prep courses for the SQE, but with the advantage that you can get post graduate loans, and if you are an international student, a visa. Both would be far more difficult with a “prep” course that wasn’t a compulsory element to enter the profession

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Anonymous

Other providers have been doing this for years. The commercial providers have been tacking on a couple of modules to the GDL for a qualifying LLB or LLM. Others have dedicated LLB/LLMs for graduates (eg Birkbeck has been running a qualifying LLB/LLM over three years for at least 12 years).

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Anonymous

Might find it depends on your firm’s policy on this (which is likely not even been written yet). If the decision lies purely with you, it looks like you could take either option where you are in the transition period, but started your TC before Autumn 2020.

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Anonymous

How much would the SQE cost, though? By comparison, the New York bar is $250 ($750 if you’re foreign), and Law Society of Scotland charges £50 for each of its 11 exams under the non-degree qualifying route.

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Anonymous

Just looking at the exams, not completely true. The emphasis is on NY state law but the exam also includes multistate, majority and minority positions and federal law. On procedural aspects there is the multistate performance test which is (supposed) to test the candidate on something they’d be expected to do in the office. Having done both, the LPC had little more to offer in terms of procedural takeaways.

The training contract is a far greater learning experience than the NY bar, however a 2 PQE in NY is rarely disadvantaged in terms of knowledge as compared to a UK NQ.

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Anonymous

Lets not forget that in the USA law is a post-graduate study programme of three years, that needs an under-graduate degree (usually four years).

Although that said a JD in the states is still only a prep course because anyone can sit the exam.

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Anonymous

Theoretically, this route should be cheaper. However, it won’t be long until the likes of BPP and UoL decide to vastly overcharge this ‘super-exam’ to make up for the losses of their cash cows

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Anonymous

They won’t responsible for the exam process unless they tender for it. My money is on Kaplan who have the tender for the QLTS exam process (which his is basically modelled on).

But UoL and BPP will sell the “prep” courses – they have already done this by rebranding their GDL as LLM courses – and will integrate the SQE prep into those courses.

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Anonymous

Does this mean that when I graduate in 2020 I just a training contract straight away, skipping two years of extra study through the GDL and LPC?

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Anonymous

Depending on how firms approach this, it could be quite the opposite; those with non-law degrees might now get overlooked for law graduates if the non-law graduates have no legal education at all. With the GDL now going, it looks like we’re heading that way.

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Anonymous

I agree. There will probably be a rise in the number of people opting for a 2-year grad law degree, the likes of which are offered at Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol etc.

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Anonymous

There goes my chances of ever being able to afford to qualify! The only way it was possible is through the government funding of the llm and now i cant have that. Guess I’ll finish my law degree and do nothing with my life!

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Bantasaurus Rex

Why? One exam versus a year of unpaid LPC. Surely the situation is better for you financially. If you’re so hard up why get a Masters- it’s not a prerequisite of either path (and doesn’t help with either path). The exam is a terrible idea but that is an awful argument against it.

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Anonymous

No, having a non-law degree and wanting to go into law is now useless. Realistically firms aren’t going to take people for a TC if they don’t even have a basic grounding in any legal subject matter. The GDL might be officially dead but providers offering GDL-style optional courses for non-law grads are going to make a killing.

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Anonymous

You would have to prove you have a degree level qualification and would have to pass the SQE requirements in the same way anyone would.

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Avicii - The GDL

One day my father—he told me,
“Son, don’t let the GDL slip away.”
When I was just a kid I heard him say,
“When you get older
Your wild life will live for the GDL
Think of me if ever you’re afraid.”
He said, “One day you’ll leave this world behind
So live a legal course you will remember.”
My father told me when I was just a child
These are the legal examinations that never die
My father told me
These are the legal examinations that never die
My father told me

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Anonymous

Would probably be better if uinversities were more honest about the availability of legal jobs. So many law graduates being churned out, many also with the LPC, that can’t get a decent job in the legal sector.

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Anonymous

The responsibility shouldn’t be with the universities. It should be with the people who sign themselves up to the course(s) with little to no knowledge of what the prospects might be.

Would universities also have to be responsible for giving guidance to all their students on their individual career prospects, when many of their students will not even be interested in a career in the sector?

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Anonymous

Universities, The Law Society, just everyone: “Legal training is therefore an extremely valuable commodity in the general market and Law graduates are sought after by a wide variety of employers. There are many career paths to choose from, a small selection of the possibilities are outlined below.” Seems legit.

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Anonymous

Could someone with a TC, who’s finishing up the GDL now, theoretically go straight into work next year (assuming their law firm want them to) and just do this super exam then?

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Anonymous

It wouldn’t really make sense. The SQE examinations wouldn’t be available until Autumn 2020, and even then the SRA have hinted it might actually be later than that (everyone else thinks they are being highly optimistic with their timeframes given the lack of detail behind what the assessments will consist of).

You could start an accelerated LPC Autumn 2017, finish by Spring 2018, have completed a training contract by Spring 2020 and have qualified.

Or you could work between now and Autumn 2020, then have to do several sets of exams spread out over a number of months (possibly even years given the limitation of when you can sit them) and then potentially not even qualify if you fail the last set of exams?

Plus if it was me, I would be avoiding being in any guinea pig cohorts for the SQE. Pass rates are bound to be lower than the LPC. You only have to look at how low the pass rates were for the first couple of years for the QLTS. It is probably less risky to take the existing route than it is the new route, especially given so much of the SQE hasn’t actually been finalised yet.

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Anonymous

Can you opt out of it and do LPC instead cause its essentially the same LLB but just condensed to exam format! Its absolutely useless to people already having LLB or LLM!

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Anonymous

Hi. I got DDU at A level and Ive just finished my BA in Magazine Design with Tipex Skills (Joint Honours) at Hemel Hampstead Uni.

What are my chances of a TC at a Magic Circle firm?

Thanks!

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Anonymous

Does anyone know whether this will affect someone supposed to be starting an accelerated LPC Jan 2018 and starting TC September 2018?

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Anonymous

still don’t get the weird thinking that some people have that if you want to be a lawyer but don’t want to study law as a degree, firms should not disadvantage you.
that’s bull, you made the choice don’t go on blaming the firms if they don’t want a film graduate with one year of GDL training and boasts they are just as knowledgeable in law as a law grad

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Anonymous

I think the more relevant thing here is that potentially the comparison would be between people who haven’t done the GDL, and those who have done a law degree, in which case I completely agree that it’s more likely to be a factor. But within the current system you seem to set too much store by a law degree – anyone can learn the knowledge of the law; what matters is the ability to reason and think logically which, arguably, is provided to an even greater extent by other degrees.

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Anonymous

I really disagree, if you take your law degree seriously (by which I mean aiming for a first) at a reputable uni your intellectual capacity of reasoning and logical thinking will be taxed to your breaking point. There’s a reason why law degrees have considerably lower distinction rates than other subjects, there much more nuances and current developments to take note of on top of employing the massive knowledge bank you have in your head.

it also explains the ridiculously difficult admission criteria (at top unis of course) for law compared to other degrees

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Anonymous

judicial reasoning is different from your plebeian concept of reasoning bruh, and the former can’t be learnt without extensive study into different areas of law over 3 years. remembering the LPC, i recall many times where a non-law dude’s reasoning was sub-par compared to the rigorous standard demanded of law students in uni

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Anonymous

unfortunately you can also say the same for many other degrees. professional degrees like law medicine or accounting is just quite different

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Anonymous

This will just shift the problem up the line to “NQs”. People will take the exams and do 2 years of work, becoming “qualified solicitors” but then what? The bottleneck will then exist for people who are newly qualified except there will be a vast range of quality in applicants depending on what they have done in their 2 years of work experience. This new scheme will have all the 9-5 paraweasels thinking they’re qualified lawyers without having to do a TC.

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LordShuffle

What happen for those Bar Professional or LLB graduates who are still job seekers?
Are the new qualifications will rule over the previous qualifications in the coming 2020s?
What if the recruiters make the new qualifications rule over the actual qualifications – will the SRA gonna stand for these Bar/LLB graduants?

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Tim Higham

The P of the LPC has needed looking at for years, as I have never been convinced of the quality of those teaching conveyancing to (huge fee paying) students, and they then bring too much theorry when they start a training contract.

Get ‘in practice’ solicitors to teach, it is crucial. Theorists , however academic, not helping students.

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John Cleese

Right, as a penultimate year non-law student at UCL, on track for a 2.1 (I’ve kissed goodbye to SandM), I’m split between a career in commercial law and a career in investment banking. I’ve done far more legal work experience stuff so far and appreciate I may be leaving it a bit late to do IB stuff (Spring Weeks etc. are for first years I believe), but essentially, I realise either way I’m setting myself up for a hard time made worthwhile by the ££ amongst a few other things. If money is to be my chief motivator through the tough times (and don’t go off on the whole ‘it’s about more than money blah blah’), should I go in for a career in IB or commercial law? I reckon I have the skills for either (surprisingly numerate for a History student), but the prospect of going straight in and earning in IB rather than going through the GDL/LPC is becoming more an more appealing atm. Legalcheek, please offer me some sage advice and witty banter.

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Anonymous

Mate, my skills and education are much better than yours. I have a photography degree from the University of Westminster and I also “reckon I have the skills for either”.

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Anonymous

If one of the reasons the Law Society have introduced this is to save students money, and to prevent students leaving the LPC and GDL with no training contract in place. Why don’t they instead, put more pressure on providers to lower the price of the courses (by creating a lower national cap) and/or putting in place reasonable admissions criteria i.e. 2:1 or above, unlike BPP and UoL who offer places for those with 2:2s who have no reasonable chance of securing a training contract.

The structure of the exam also seems absurd, making law grads pay to essentially re-cap law they have already learnt (and already paid for!). How does this fit in with the Law Society’s aim of saving students crucial cash?

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Anonymous

Just in case anyone’s interested, I made an FOI request to the SRA for their modelled costs of the SQA. Their response was:

I am unable to release the information that you have requested as it is exempt from
disclosure under Qualified Limitation 23 of our Transparency Code.
Qualified Limitation 23 – a trade secret or is or would be likely to prejudice the
commercial interests of any person including us.
The information is highly confidential because it is relevant to a competitive tender
process we will be issuing to source an assessment organisation to work with us to
deliver the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).
The assessment organisation will be entitled to charge SQE candidate fees. Bidders’
assessment of the costs of the contract will drive their financial model and the fee
level which they propose. We therefore want to ensure the most competitive bidding
process possible. If we were to release our internal modelling it could set market
expectations and undermine the competitive nature of the process. This could result
in candidates being charged higher fees.
Therefore, we can’t release the information you have requested to you.
A qualified limitation requires the application of a public interest test in determining
whether the information should be released.
Disclosure under the Transparency Code is disclosure to the world at large and any
public interest balancing exercise is assessed on that basis, not based on an
assessment of an individual requestor’s interest in seeing the information they have
requested.
We have concluded that it is in the public interest to maintain confidentiality as it is in
the interest of the profession as a whole to ensure a competitive tender process is
followed.
We therefore find that the public interest in withholding the requested information
outweighs the public interest in disclosing it into the public domain at this time.

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