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Exclusive: City law firms push to bring entire ‘two-part’ super-exam before training contract

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It’s beginning to look a lot like the LPC

There is a movement afoot to push together the two exams that will make up the proposed solicitor super-exam so that both can be taken before a training contract, Legal Cheek can reveal.

This watering down of what is meant to be a revolutionary two-part solicitor exam — intended to be taken before and at the end of the training contract — would leave the end result looking an awful lot like the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

A consultation document on the Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) states the examinable parts of this proposed route to qualification will be split into two parts (SQE1 and SQE2). Regarding the two parts and their relation to the requirement of recognised work-based training, the paper — produced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) — states:

“We expect many candidates will take SQE stage 1 before their work-based experience, and SQE stage 2 at the end of their work experience.”

Note the loose wording. This has left the door open to the SQE2 potentially being scheduled for after the student has done just some of their training contract — or maybe even just a vac scheme.

At a recent super-exam event, an SRA representative was asked about the requirement of work-based training. Enquiring about its length, the questioner asked: “Could this period be as little as one day?” The SRA spokesperson replied: That is “open to discussion”.

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Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director of education and training, failed to unequivocally rule out this possibility as she told Legal Cheek:

“The SQE is about trust in consistent, high standards. It is also about a more level playing field, where everyone has a fair chance of qualifying. We want to tackle the problem of the LPC gamble, where people have to bet £15,000 on a career without a training contract. A two part SQE stops that. A more flexible approach to work experience should help deal with the training contract bottleneck. Yet to confidently do that, you need a clear, independent check that candidates have developed the skills you would expect from effective work experience — SQE 2. We do not have any plans to combine part one and two of the SQE.”

Specifically on when the SQE will be taken, Brannan added: “SQE 2 will assess whether candidates can demonstrate they have the competences required for safe practice as a qualified solicitor. It will not be set at the current LPC standard, but at the qualified solicitor standard. We expect candidates will need to have had good quality work experience in order to develop their competences to the necessary standard.”

City law firms are concerned by the disruption the new centralised solicitor exam may cause to their qualification process. Currently, law firms welcome LPC graduates into their firms as trainees knowing they have completed and passed their compulsory education. As a firm, you wouldn’t want to pay a trainee for two years, only for them to fall at the final hurdle and fail the SQE2.

On the other hand, as a student without a training contract is it fair that you have to front up £15k for the LPC without any guarantee it will pay off? A genuine two-part SQE would at least mitigate self-funding students’ financial risk.

Exam providers are currently bidding to put on the SQE. The tender results are expected to be announced in the spring.

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