SQE latest: City Consortium’s non-law trainees will need to complete GDL-style conversion course

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Exclusive: Influential group of six also hope future rookies will sit both parts of super-exam prior to starting TCs

Non-law graduates due to start their training contacts at one of six top law firms known collectively as the ‘City Consortium’ will have to complete a law conversion course prior to sitting the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), Legal Cheek can reveal.

The influential group — consisting of Freshfields, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright, Linklaters and Slaughter and May — will require all non-law graduates to undertake a full law conversion course before they sit part one of the super-exam, in an approach closely aligned to the current route to qualification.

The elite group will also require rookies to complete SQE1 and, subject to the timing of the assessments, SQE2 before they start their training contracts. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is yet to confirm these timings.

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The consortium’s plan — revealed last Thursday at LegalEdCon 2020, Legal Cheek‘s virtual education and training conference attended by over 600 delegates — will likely act as a guide for other City firms, who we understand will implement similar requirements ahead of the launch of the SQE in autumn 2021.

The group, which collectively dishes out around 345 TCs annually, announced last year that it had appointed BPP University Law School to help prepare its future trainees to sit the SQE. It also said it intended, subject to any changes made by the SRA, that its rookies will first sit SQE1 in, or around, November 2022 — a year after the regulator’s anticipated roll-out date. The first intake of trainees that this would affect is those commencing their training contracts in spring 2023.

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Disgruntled Applicant

I don’t get it.
Change the system or don’t but come on. Adding even more exams is not what students need.

The SQE makes little sense, just keep it as it is.



At least for trainees at these firms, rather than taking university set exams at the end of the GDL, they will take a centrally set exam (SQE 1) at the end of this course instead.

You can argue about the execution of the idea, but having a centrally set exam does have advantages In theory over the status quo


Final year law student

As a SPB vac scheme holder and hopefully future trainee at this tier 1 firm I am watching with interest how SPB will propose to deal with these changes – will it align or diversify ? What do people think ?


Speaking for everyone

Dear final year law student,

Please shut the fuck up.

Kind regards,


Another disgruntled applicant (post-GDL)

Does the GDL remain a valid ‘conversion course’, or would GDL completers have to embark on a new course? For those of us in limbo between routes, more clarity is definitely needed.


Another Anon

You should be fine. If anything the GDL will be more comprehensive than whatever is brought in and people will be familiar with the content and results etc.



SQE 2 is supposed to test the skills you develop during your training contract.

I wonder why they would want people to pass this before they start a TC.

Is this too much classroom learning?

Will be interesting to see if this means it will be harder to pass by doing it before the TC or not.



People seem to be taking this out on the consortium firms when in reality you should be pointing the finger at the ever incompetent and useless SRA.


Showround @ Bakers

LOL using ‘elite’ to describe NRF – may as well chuck in CMS’ logo while you’re at it too



Rofl NRF runs rings around a shet pit like CMS, they’re worlds apart.



What a mess. Elitism will always find its way. Thank god I am a low calibre lawyer and wouldn’t stand a chance at these firms anyway.


1st Year Trainee

Anyone remember how much fun the LPC was?

Sure, you couldn’t laze around like in undergrad but the work was academically easier and so long as you did the hours you were guaranteed a pass.

I spent loads of time in the pub and made some great friends. Why interfere with perfection?



Hey if u did the lpc any tips for final years, how was it like i assume u got TC before beginning lpc



SQE is a pitiful abortion of a social engineering project which has at its heart the unevidenced assumption that if you create new, almost certainly 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 in 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 valued that the tried and tested qualification route.

Employers will become exponentially 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. 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 an ‘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 your CV will be ever more important).

It has been obvious for ages that many firms will simply ignore the SQE, and replicate the existing GDL/LPC. This article is proof of that. 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.

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 offered by the firms. Those who train at sub-par firms will be permanent blocked out from high-end City and commercial law by this.

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: less academic middle class children are sensibly deterred from going into law. 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. 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 incomptent to realise its failure or too arrogant to admit it. Can we now – please – put a stake in the SQE?

In an attempt to conclude on a positive note: the SRA has rightly recognised that law school quality is highly variable, and that this should be addressed. There is a very simple alternative to the SQE, though: centrally-set and assessed LPC exams. This would preserve the best parts of the current system, while providing quality assurance. How about it, SRA?


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