Linklaters delays SQE transition to 2022

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By Alex Aldridge on

Exclusive: UK’s largest training law firm to stick with LPC for extra year after new Solicitors Qualifying Exam comes into place

The law firm which offers the most training contracts in the country is to delay its transition to the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) for a year after it comes into place.

Rather than put law graduate future trainees onto the new SQE regime upon its launch in 2021, Linklaters will instead have them do the outgoing Legal Practice Course (LPC) — an option to that is available under an arrangement that will see the LPC gradually phased out over a number of years.

The move by the influential magic circle player is likely to be followed by other leading firms and could well set the norm for the legal market as it prepares for the biggest change in its system of training for a generation.

Linklaters’ decision seems to be mainly motivated by a desire to keep its law students on the same educational track as its non-law students (the firm’s 100-strong annual trainee intake is typically 50/50 law and non-law). With non-law graduates needing an extra year of training to do what is currently the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), they are proving slightly problematic for firms to accommodate in the switch to the SQE. But in delaying by a year, Linklaters will be able to bring together non-law and law graduates for combined SQE courses from September 2022.

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At the same time, waiting an extra year to adopt the SQE will allow Linklaters to watch how the exam is working and avoid any potential pitfalls that some fear could occur during the SQE launch year.

From 2023 the firm will go full SQE, with non-law graduates first doing what Linklaters terms “a law degree-level course” (probably something similar to the GDL, albeit potentially slightly extended) before joining law graduates on the SQE part one preparation course.

Legal Cheek understands that this course will go well beyond what is regulatorily required of Linklaters, with a focus on preparing trainees for specific high-end City practice areas. The course is also likely to extend into the period after new recruits have started to work for the firm, with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) keen for trainees to sit part two of the SQE during rather than before their training contract (or “qualifying work experience” as this stage will become officially known).

Speaking to Legal Cheek, Patrick McCann, Linklaters’ global head of learning, said:

“The incoming SQE regime presents a number of opportunities and challenges for law firms and their incoming trainees. We plan to meet these challenges by providing a comprehensive educational entry that will see our future colleagues not only meet the SQE’s requirements, but also develop degree-level legal knowledge and practical City-specific insight. Our trainees will begin on the SQE preparatory courses from autumn 2022, a year after the new regime’s introduction, with our first ‘SQE cohort’ joining us in spring 2023. We are excited to see what the future holds.”

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