Advice

‘I’m a non-law student totally confused by the new SQE’

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I want to be a solicitor but I’m unsure what my options are

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one non-law student is unsure how the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) pathway will impact them.

Hi, Legal Cheek readers. I’m a final-year STEM student looking to convert to law and become a solicitor. I’m aware the SQE has come in recently, but I’m unsure how it will impact me as a non-law student, especially since the GDL/LPC are running in tandem with the new pathway. I’ve been getting mixed messages from my law student pals: some suggest I do the SQE to save time and money by not having to do a law conversion course (apparently it’s no longer required?) but others say the big law firms will still want their non-law trainees to do the GDL.

Secure your place: The non-law dilemma – with Bird & Bird and BPP

I also don’t know if law firms still plan to recruit a 50:50 split of law and non-law grads — will I be overlooked in favour of law students who already have the baseline knowledge? I’m totally confused by what I should do. Please help!”

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18 Comments

Zed

Do the LPC if you can

(38)(1)

Anon

Not sure why anyone would opt for the SQE.

It’s supposed to be more accessible but the SQE courses, combined with the exam fees, come quite close to the cost of the LPC (outside of London)

Why choose this archaic assessment when you are safe with the LPC?

The LPC is not perfect but it’s tried and tested.

(32)(1)

Frank

Agreed.

Also, the 53% pass rate isn’t very promising.

(19)(0)

J

This SQE stuff is complete and utter nonsense

(18)(0)

Truth Serum

most top firms won’t take the SQE seriously.

They will want future trainees to do the SQE their way with a 2 year TC style period of work, which is essentially what many have now implemented and it’s not much different to their current recruitment style besides from the SQE assessments.

You really think top firms are going to accept a candidate with a few months paralegaling here and a bit of legal work there and it adds up to 2 years??

The only somewhat commendable thing about the SQE is reduced fees and standardised exams, but they didn’t need to scrap the LPC to do that.

The LPC is just textbooks and pre recorded online workshops that students teach themselves from, so it should’ve been queried whether up to 20k for self teaching course is worth it? Where was the money going into exactly as the law schools were using regurgitated materials with changed dates year in year out?

What they could’ve done is adjust the LPC to make it more standardised and reduce the fees and improve the quality of the course and teaching and support. They could also have changed the assessment styles to introduce more coursework or even MCQ into the LPC, if they wished to do so.

There were many options available that were not even considered for some reason.

(21)(2)

FoxyBeaver

If you ask most people what they can remember from the LPC they will tell you they forgot a lot of it the moment the exam was over.

It’s silly to call it a practical course when it is anything but that.

I agree that they should’ve adjusted the way the LPC was managed and assessed and taught, but to completely scrap it was idiotic.

(17)(0)

Kudos

Truth serum – your name is the truth. Nothing but facts.

(4)(0)

Sam

The complete and utter propaganda of the SQE is being forced down our throats.

Call a spade a spade, the SQE is a load of crap

(18)(2)

Jarrod

You can’t use that phrase. It is highly offensive.

(3)(15)

Peter

The problem is they’re judging exams based on how hard they are, rather than how comprehensive it is and what practical skills and knowledge an individual can gain from it.

The LPC was difficult in another way as it had inadequate teaching, lack of support, the rubbish exam timetables, the poor management from the providers, the heavy volume of content with little time to cover it properly, etc.

Whereas the SQE is just crap full stop. A closed book MCQ is just a memory test and how much time can you dedicate to memorising the content (which is difficult for those who work part-time or full-time even).

It is a different beast, but the beast is a measly squirrel running around in no proper direction.

(23)(0)

Anon NQ

Get some experience in a law firm first, either as a paralegal or by applying for traditional vac schemes. That should be your focus. Depending on the experience, it will eliminate the confusion in options by placing you on whatever route the firm wants to follow.

For example, if you get experience via a traditional vac scheme at one of the big firms and you succeed in securing an offer afterwards, chances are you will be put on the tradition GDL/LPC/training contract path. I also know people who started in paralegal roles at big international and US firms in the last couple years that were recently put on the SQE path. One had a choice between LPC and SQE, the other was just told they were doing the SQE. My firm is looking at offering both options depending on a candidate’s experience.

Over the next few years the LPC vs SQE convo will die away and revert back to the old method for determining the “prestige” of your training based on location and type of firm (e.g. magic circle in London vs high street firm in Preston). No matter what path you take, it will all require a lot of hard work. Good luck, and I hope you think it’s worth it.

(15)(0)

Fellow non-law graduate

Hi, fellow non-law grad here to clear a few things up!

1. The GDL/LPC route isn’t technically ‘running in tandem’ – it’s being slowly phased out in favour of the new SQE route. If you haven’t started your legal studies (either an LLB or a GDL) before September 2021, then the SQE route is your only option. So whether it’s “complete and utter nonsense” is irrelevant: you’re stuck with it. And rest assured, law firms are very much taking it seriously!

2. You’re absolutely right to say the GDL is no longer required. Nor are the SQE practice courses. In theory, you could rock up tomorrow and sit the SQE exams without ever having studied law. But in practice, it’s going to be virtually impossible to pass them without any foundational legal knowledge (which is why I think the GDL is still the best (albeit expensive!) first step for non-law graduates).

Law firms that offer training contracts – particularly larger, city firms – will almost always provide funding for both the GDL and SQE. This can take the form of grants or loans (which you then pay back as part of your salary on qualification) depending on the size of firm and the resources it has available for training.

For the SQE, larger, city firms will usually have an arrangement with one of the main law schools (BPP and The University of Law being most common) to teach their own ‘bespoke’ SQE qualification to incoming trainees. To all intents and purposes, this will cover virtually the same content as the old LPC, albeit tailored to the new exam format. On completion, you’ll then do two years ‘qualifying work experience’ (QWE) (a training contract by any other name) at the firm before officially qualifying as a solicitor. So, if you manage to successfully secure a training contract, your route to qualification will be almost identical to the old GDL/LPC route.

Where the SQE differs is that you no longer NEED to secure a training contract in order to qualify as a solicitor. The two years of qualifying work experience can be a combination of different placements of different lengths and includes things like paralegal work – but you do still need to pass the SQE exams either before or after your QWE. In terms of how law firms will look at accumulated work experience versus a recognised training contract – it’s very difficult to say because the whole process is so new! I suspect the big firms are likely to prefer the more traditional route, but it might be the case that smaller firms look more favourably on candidates who have done all the legwork themselves and therefore cost less to train.

So as a non-law graduate who (I assume) has not yet started a legal qualification, the LPC route isn’t an option for you. I’d suggest gaining some relevant work experience to ensure that a) you’re certain about a career in law and b) you’ve demonstrated your interest, and then starting the process of applying for training contracts to fund you.

I’m a humanities graduate and career changer and I opted to self-fund the GDL this year, (mostly to make sure it was definitely something I was interested in) before applying for training contracts. I’ve just secured one with a firm that will now fund my next year of studying for the SQE.

Hope this helps!

(33)(0)

Barrister

My five cents, fully aware that you wish to become a solicitor and not a barrister. But:

– GDL is recognised as an academic qualification and is therefore sufficient to gain access to some very good LLMs. It is rare to be granted a place on e.g. the Cambridge LLM if you have only done the GDL, but it is by no means an obstacle to doing an LLM at very good law schools like LSE or UCL. You may not be considering an LLM right now, but you may begin legal study and decide that further academic immersion interests you. By taking the SQE, you close that door.

– As far as I am aware, the Bar has no interest whatsoever in the SQE. It is purely a gateway qualification to practice as a solicitor. Anyone who starts the GDL with a mind to becoming a solicitor may suddenly find out more about the Bar and decide to take that route; or a fully qualified solicitor may later decide to cross-qualify (this happens fairly frequently). That will not be possible if you have only the SQE qualification to your name.

– If you qualify into a firm’s litigation department and want to take a sabbatical year to work as a judicial assistant (whether in the High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court), the panel will give you blank stares if you talk about your SQE. If the GDL (formerly called the CPE) was good enough for Sumption and Neuberger, it’s good enough for you.

(10)(1)

Alice Payne, The College of Legal Practice

Hi, it is confusing! At The College of Legal Practice, we offer a much shorter conversion course – Graduate Foundation of Law. It is cheaper than the traditional GDL and gives you another option to think about.

If you haven’t done an LLB, we would recommend some kind of conversion course prior to SQE prep. We would always want to be honest with our students and give them the best chance of success on the SQE, otherwise resits and wasted time can make it much more expensive.

(2)(9)

I Am Made Of Lego

If you find questions with long sentences a challenge then the SQE is pretty much designed for you.

(2)(0)

H

I hate both but do lpc while you can

(1)(0)

AW1983

I work in an investment management firm rather than a law firm and I can see what the Law Society was trying to achieve but they have completely and utterly failed.

If one wants to become an accountant, one studies the ACCA, CIMA or ICAEW exams and gets the requisite work experience whilst studying. The exams in each case are a mixture of MCQs and long form answers in order to test both knowledge and application. Lots of colleagues have studied ACCA from a non-accounting background and no one quibbles about whether an accounting graduate knows more about accounting than they do.

Likewise, if someone wishes to become an investment manager then first they study the IMC and then the CFA. Similar to the SQE, these examinations are predominantly MCQs although the later CFA exams have some longer form questions. Again, you can come from a non-finance academic background and take these examinations and no one will quibble about what your undergraduate degree was in.

As someone with some very limited practical legal training (as a chartered secretary) who wishes to retrain as a solicitor, I have absolutely no faith that I can simply sit and pass the SQE and be considered on a level with other people who sit and pass the SQE but also hold an LLB or GDL. As a professional qualification, it is therefore utterly worthless and lacking in respect and is nothing more than a bureaucratic, expensive addition to the GDL.

There was a lot of sense in the Law Society setting their own affordable examinations but when they did so they needed to ensure the qualification was on a par with other professional qualifications so that it had the depth and respect it needed to be a qualification in its own right. I sincerely hope the SRA upgrade the syllabus and examination format in the first post implementation review to create something fit for purpose.

(0)(0)

SQE

If you want to take CPA in the US, then you need to have some accounting/business modules to be taken during your university degree. But UK ACCA is intended to serve as an equivalent to an accounting degree, just like CIMA. It is a long course and takes much time than US CPA or CMA.

I think a person can pass SQE with a preparation course, but it doesn’t mean that they know how the law operates in real practice. At least, SRA should have made law modules to be taken after SQE is fully passed or require a GDL to satisfy legal education requirement. If anyone can be a solicitor with SQE and a bit of paralegal experience, Solicitor will become known as underperforming legal profession that no one could seriously respect. We surely do not want to see that English Solicitor is a second class legal profession to attorney at law in other countries.

(0)(0)

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