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City Consortium to provide SQE ‘top-up courses’ for future trainees

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Exclusive: Will cover legal tech and project management skills

A group of six influential law firms collectively known as the ‘City Consortium’ are to provide ‘top-up courses’ for future trainees to supplement the knowledge and skills examined on the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), Legal Cheek can reveal.

The group, which includes Freshfields, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright, Linklaters and Slaughter and May, will commission extra courses so that future joiners at these firms are skilled in topics such as legal tech and innovation, business and project management, and ready to start their training within a City practice. These so-called SQE ‘top-up courses’ will be delivered by BPP University Law School, the Consortium’s official training provider, and are in addition to those taken by trainees to prepare for the two centralised assessments.

Linklaters, which offers the highest number of training contracts of the lot, is designing a bespoke programme to prepare its future cohorts for City-specific practice, according to Patrick McCann, global head of learning at the firm. “Our bespoke programme will go beyond the knowledge and skills assessed in the SQE to prepare our future joiners for all aspects of their role,” he said. “Using real-world transactions it will include topics relevant to City law, but also incorporate an understanding of commercial and technological frameworks and develop our graduates’ business-critical skills, such as growth mindset and resilience.”

Legal Cheek understands that the Consortium’s approach will help to plug the skills gap left by the removal of Legal Practice Course (LPC) electives which the SQE phases out. Under the current regime, LPC electives, or modules, are usually prescribed by a law firm and tend to align with their core practice areas. City law firms, for instance, tend to opt for corporate/commercial electives with a transactional focus.

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So far only one other City law firm, Reed Smith, which isn’t a Consortium member, has provided substantive details about its SQE plans. Reed Smith will partner with the College of Legal Practice to deliver practice-based learning to assist their future recruits with their studies, alongside the exam prep they’ll receive courtesy of BARBRI.

Legal Cheek suspects other major City players will commission bespoke training courses from legal education providers. Last month, our exclusive research showed that almost three-quarters (70%) of graduate recruitment and learning and development professionals at City law firms think the SQE alone will not be enough and future trainees will require a more thorough course to fully prepare them for legal practice.

The City Consortium announced in 2019 that it had appointed BPP as its SQE prep course provider. It also said it intended, subject to any changes made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, 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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