City law firms urged not to abandon unsuccessful SQE trainees

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City of London Law Society calls for ‘supportive, understanding approach’ for ‘little-known assessment’

City law firms have been urged not to abandon future trainees who fail to pass the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).

The City of London Law Society (CLLS)’s training committee met with 16 law firms and three legal education providers last week to determine how best to support any incoming trainees and employed solicitor apprentices who fail to pass SQE1 at the first attempt.

The committee issued a note, published on LinkedIn, in which they recommend “a supportive, understanding approach” for this “new, little-known assessment regime”.

Earlier this month the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) published a report with pass rate data for the more than 3,000 candidates who took the SQE in its first year of operation, from September 2021 until August 2022. It revealed just over half of candidates (53%) passed SQE1. SQE assessor Kaplan is yet to publish the national pass rate for the most recent January 2023 SQE1 sitting.

Under the SQE’s predecessor, the Legal Practice Course (LPC), the committee said that the pass rate among City-sponsored students had typically been above 95%.

“The level successful candidates are expected to achieve in the SQE1 is that of a ‘day-one solicitor’, in contrast to the level under the LPC which was that of a ‘day-one trainee’,” the committee noted.

The 2023 Legal Cheek SQE Providers List

“Although the SRA stated that the exam would assess students’ knowledge of general legal principles, some candidates had reported that some of the questions were rather esoteric and not things that a day-one solicitor could be expected to know without looking up,” they said.

SQE1 is a multiple-choice assessment made up of two five-hour papers taken across two, non-consecutive days. The format raises “certain diversity issues, including for neurodiverse students”, the committee claims in the note.

Further, they point out the environment in which the exam is taken has been “gruelling”, with many candidates having to travel at length to sit the exam and in some instances necessitating an overnight stay. They also claim some candidates encountered IT issues and delays and some were unable to take water into the exam with them.

“[T]he stress caused by the assessment environment could have a negative impact on candidates’ performance,” the committee said.

They also considered the options available to firms whose future trainees fail SQE1. These include a short or long deferral, taking into account extenuating circumstances, different providers’ pass rates as these become known and, among other things, whether the failure was marginal or significant. They suggested rescission of the training contract as a third option, but noted this could potentially result in “negative publicity” for the firm which “could be felt through the next few years”.

“It is challenging, and possibly unwise, to implement a ‘one size fits all’ policy,” the committee said.

Patrick McCann, director of learning at Magic Circle law firm Linklaters and chair of the training committee, urged any employers considering rescinding training contract offers owing to SQE failure to keep their talent. In a post shared to his personal LinkedIn, McCann said:

“We need much more data before we can be in any way sure that first-time failure is indicative of lack of trainee solicitor-capability. The assessment is largely unvalidated, tests performance with a methodology unfamiliar to nearly all candidates, is producing unexpected outcomes for some. I’d urge understanding, support and lassitude. I hope more guidance will be forthcoming soon but — for now — no sudden negative decisions, please.”

Join us on Thursday (30 March) for a virtual student event focused on the SQE assessments with BPP University Law School. Apply to attend the event, which is free, now.



It’s true, considering how new and different to anything been done before when it comes to taking UK law exams…law firms shouldn’t be silly to rebuff offers of those fail exams at first instance.

If they tend to follow the American law system which the SQE seems to be doing when it comes to the bar, they should provide them with time and resources to prepare for and take the exam again. And given how flexible SQE is supposed, they could even do it again during their TC.



Not sure what I make of this. How far does this support go? One fail? Two fails?


US law

A lot of US firms allow one retake of the bar, so perhaps that’s a model to follow.


I'll have a flat white

US bar exams are hard. This has been watered down to just above colouring in because some candidates found long sentences in questions a challenge.



Having recently seen what firms do to trainees who fail the LPC, I’d say, good luck.



Well the SQE is brand new, the lpc has been going donkey years and it’s a completely diffferent way of assessing (i.e. you’re being assessed the standard of a newly qualified lawyer as opposed to a trainee lawyer before you even starting your TC)..doesn’t make sense


SQE Passer

You don’t get assessed as a newly qualified lawyer. It’s the same content as the LLB/GDL/LPC, just in a different examination format


Grad Wreck

Actually this is correct. To pass SQE, you are expected to be at the standard of a NQ. To pass the LPC you were expected to be at the standard of a trainee.



So doesn’t it make sense to do the exams after QWE? Why do firms front-load the assessments then?

SQE Passer

You definitely haven’t sat the SQE have you? The content is identical to the LLB/GDL/LPC rofl

Grad Wreck

No, I haven’t sat the SQE. I work in grad rec. But I know that the SQE covers content from LLB/GDL, LPC (stage one) and the PSC. It’s significantly more content that was covered in the LPC.

Just read the info from the SRA. The law schools teaching this will also say the same.

East London Associate

I can tell you’re in grad rec, because of the minimal understanding you show of the actual practice of law. What does “expected to be at the level of an NQ” mean to a future trainee sitting an academic exam? Having looked at the SQE content, there is little change to the content from when I sat the LPC years ago. The LPC also re-covered/duplicated content from the LLB/GDL and PSC. It is mainly changes to structure of the course, the main driver being to widen access to the profession. The


Just so no one gets worried about this or feels terrible for failing, I too have passed the SQE and can say this comment is objectively incorrect. No, it is NOT identical to undergrad. Undergrad modules are assessed ALONGSIDE 5 other modules that are most certainly not taught at undergrad, or at least not compulsory/offered everywhere.



What do they do? @Anon. Anything beyond TC rescission?


Earl wombleby

Chase you back for the money spent on the LPC…



Do the LPC while you still can!!!



So…we are all Guinea pigs atm. That’s just great.

Why I can’t I just do the lpc and PSC and be done with this BS..yes they have their faults but “if it ain’t broke don’t…”



There are “guinea pigs” with any new assessment…comes with the territory. The LPC system also was broken if you look at it from a consistency perspective: lots of unis setting their own assessments with massive variability in pass rates, standards etc. Doesn’t paint a great picture for solicitor standards etc.



What I find crazy is why law firms want to follow this confusing SQE period when lpc is still going on until 2030…


Stop asking for my name and email Legal Cheek

Because anyone who graduated from a non-law degree after December 2021 has to do the SQE. And most law graduates who will graduate in 2024 will also have to do the SQE. Only those law graduates who started a QLD course in 2021 can use the transitionary period to still do the LPC.



What I find crazy is comments like this when you can solve your confusion by reading a couple of paragraphs on the SRA/SQE website…just like the author of the above comment did!



What I find ridiculous is why there are some law firms making candidates who have done the lpc still to commit to doing the SQE 2 before their TC….when lpc is a tried and tested route. I thought law firms like stableness and predictability?



Which firms are requiring this? Crazy!






Are any first or second choice firms requiring this?



From a law firm perspective, it is easier to have everyone on the same footing, i.e. either everyone has done SQE or LPC, no mushy washy single intake on vastly different rules. This is why many firms have started adopting SQE only route this year or are planning this for 2024/25 and why they insist the LPC grads to take SQE2 as well. Which, frankly, was bound to happen and was discussed ad nauseam once the SQE became a reality – if someone paid lots of money for LPC themselves while being aware of the SQE coming in… then I’m sorry, but doing LPC without a TC secured is stupid enough, while doing it during a transition period when they may be required to take SQE2 on the top of that is just burning money for nothing (although I blame the “take the LPC if you can!” crowd who did not have the foresight to understand that the SQE will become a reality sooner rather than later and they are simply encouraging young people to part with their money. And I say this as someone who generally thinks LPC was a better regime).


Reply to Ana

Well that’s not really the lpc students thought when uni of law and other law schools promote how the “lpc” is still viable option and the fact that firms have still beeen taking those who have lpc to do the TC. Doing the lpc while not having the TC is something many candidates have done and went to get the TC, so everyone has their own strategy..some people took the lpc in hopes of being able to start at a firm who still take lpcs or start earlier which firms still do



Ehh you just contradicted yourself with “the SQE or LPC”. If someone has already done the lpc, then why should they need to do the SQE then. There should be two options – you do the lpc or SQE rather than lpc grads doing the SQE 2. If anything that makes things confusing because from I’ve seen SQE 2 has elements that’s already dealt with lpc.

The idea that people who do the lpc without TC are stupid is silly comment because there are certain strategies why people do these things FYI, not every firm pays lpc fees.


Casual observer

…and I thought SQE was meant to open barriers? Seems to be creating more barriers and confusion to me.


Grad Wreck

I suppose it depends on what barriers you are thinking of. The SQE exam is harder to pass than the LPC. But people no longer need apply for training contracts and be accepted by a law firm to qualify as a solicitor. So that barrier has been removed.

If you think about it another way, a Managing Partner can no longer shoe-horn their stupid offspring on to their firm’s training contract programme and have them qualify 2 years later. If the kid is too stupid to pass the SQE, no amount of nepotism is going to change that.


Stop asking for my name and email Legal Cheek

Unfortunately, it is probably easier for their kid to be shoe-horned in. The SQE decentralises graduate recruitment where the QWE is no longer regulated by a training principal. As trainees no longer have to rotate, its very easy for any partner to now just have someone on their department’s headcount for two years, rather than on a centralised headcount that could be scrutinised by every other partner in the firm who is effectively in part paying for it.

And they will just pay for their kid to have private 1-2-1 tuition to get them through the exams, like they probably did when they were at school.



Exactly, it’s even easier now 😂😂 what a shit show smh



They couldn’t do that would still have to pass lpc and do well on TC to be kept on. How many stories do you hear of managing partner got a TC under the same firm..maybe during the time when they were “articled clerks” which is a million years ago.


Grad Wreck

Yes, but this debate is about how much harder the SQE exam is compared to the LPC. Hardly anyone failed the LPC. We’re finding that the SQE pass rate is about 60%.

With the SQE, it’s an external benchmark that everyone needs to meet. If you fail it 3 times, that’s it – you’re out.


SQE Regretter

It’s definitely creating more barriers. As a type 1 diabetic SQE candidate that requires reasonable adjustments for these long exams, the process of implementing reasonable adjustments is shockingly disgraceful!



Please contact the Disabled Solicitors Network at the Law Society and tell them about your experience of getting reasonable adjustments.


I'll have a flat white

Diabetics have passed exams with no difference in performance for a long long time. These days at school exams the teachers might as well ask who is not getting an extra half hour for “reasonable adjustments”. University and vocational courses are heading that way too.

I’d love to know how differently treated the 10.50am moaner was.

And before you rush to assumptions, I’m disabled.


Succession enjoyer

I am a type 1 myself and didn’t need any adjustments.

Just bring some coke/juice with you and you can have a drink by getting outside the test room at any time

Also just go low on your insulin dosage in advance to be on the safe side and you’re golden



Do f*cking lpc while those firms that still allow you to do so, while you can!!


Well done

Literally don’t know anyone that has found the SQE positive..well done SRA.



Can’t we just revolt? Like the good old days?


Charity or business?

The perfect level of support is holding the door for them as they carry their box of belongings out of the building.



Lmao is this another Kirkland NQ


Worth it?

Do you think it’s worth trying to get a TC somewhere else and quit your TC offer if you have the lpc but they are making you do the SQE 2?



Where can I complain to SRA about being forced to do SQE when I have lpc?



There’s nothing to complain about – the SRA’s rules clearly allow LPC grads to transfer to the SQE route and exempt from taking SQE1. A number of firms are taking this approach for the reasons other commenters have already said.
If you don’t like it, get a TC elsewhere…


Good to see…

I have to say that I thought Linklaters was one of the firms that withdrew offers after an SQE fail so good to see this statement.
Does anyone know which firms are doing this?
This is the first major sitting of SQE in terms of firm sponsored students, it doesn’t seem fair to withdraw offers, or good business considering how much has already been invested in these candidates.


Nat C

I think the article refers to the statement being made by the CLLS and Patrick’s role as chair doesn’t make it Linklaters policy. His comments made on his (carefully noted) personal LinkedIn page don’t also make it Linklaters policy. Patrick is something of a social justice warrior and quite happy to express his own views even when they contradict with the firm he works for.

I’d check with Linklaters grad team what the actual policy is rather than rely on an external body’s statement, and the personal view of an employee.



Don’t know of anyone who has lost their TC at links or any city consortium firm (freshfields, slaughters, links, NRFB, hogans). I doubt he would share something like that if the firm was doing the opposite. I am a trainee at the firm.



There have clearly been some issues with the SQE in the first year. But I think the letter from the CLLS shows that firms really need to up their game in terms of understanding what the SQE is (or what it’s meant to be) and how it’s different from the LPC.

It’s meant to be set at a higher standard (a solicitor on day one of practice) whereas the LPC is set at the standard of a day one trainee.

If the SQE delivers on this promise, then firms need to wake up and make sure they are supporting candidates properly and thinking about things like getting them to complete most or all their QWE before attempting the SQE (or at least before SQE2).

This could explain why apprentices were doing better (not sure if they still are) in the SQE. They’ve presumably had years of on the job training and support…all their QWE etc…to prepare them.

Can we say the same for standard applicants or are city firms just assuming that because they have a first from a decent uni, they’re gonna be fine? That would be pretty dumb on their part.


SQE survivor

Absolutely no practical skills are involved in SQE1, which is what people are failing en masse.

Its quite the opposite, its testing a highly technical command of black letter law, extensively committed to memory, which few if any paralegals/solicitors will use in practice.


Any others

Any others firms other than shed making their future trainees do this? Re the lpc grads?



Well at least you won’t have to do SQE 1 as an lpc grad, it’s another stupid pain in the neck which makes no sense but what can we do..



So what does this mean, are those who do the SQE before TC now considered supremely better than those that did just the LPC? It’s all just bssss



Welll from the other flip of the coin, at least those that have done lpc don’t have to do SQE 1…that seems way worse…feel sorry for those that have to do both.

What I don’t get is can’t SRA and firms see that this alienates future trainees?



I feel the SQE was rushed and deep down I think SRA know it too.



God knows we sat a lot of hard exams in our lives


Moosey Nun

If the exams were hard that says more about you than the exams. There are no difficult exams for anyone wanting to qualify as a lawyer if they take an undergraduate law degree. (I say that because I can’t speak to the challenges of other undergraduate degrees).


We’re gonna be fineeeeeeee

God knows we sat a lot of hard exams in our lives



I saw the stress level and the negative impact this has had for many students . I am sure many other students who sat the exam in January found this process extremely hard. Some were actually in tears after the 2nd exam in the afternoon.
Travelling for 1:5 / 2 hours in the morning to get to the examination centre , to then begin told no water can be consumed and to be sat in an extremely cold room for 2:5 hours ,how can you focus.
When you pay a fee for this exam and the standards are so low, it definitely isn’t the best experience for any student or trainee.
I really think the pass rate should be reviewed.


Passed SQE 1

I agree the scarcity of locations to sit the SQE is ridiculous, some of my peers had to do the exams in places outside of London, requiring them to overnight at cheap hotels etc.

Re the water thing though, all of this is actually set out in detail on the SRA website and at least at my centre as I had a reasonable adjustment I was permitted to have my water bottle just outside the test room so that I could pop out to take a drink if I needed to, whereas for my peers without adjustments I noticed they had to keep in their lockers and be escorted to their lockers for a drink. Plus there’s an hour break in between so you do a 2.5 hour session, break for an hour where you can eat and drink etc and then do another 2.5 hours which I think mitigates this somewhat.

I do agree it’s a ridiculous policy but the fact that you’re not allowed to take water into the exam room shouldn’t come as news to you on exam day.



SQE2 is similar in content to the PSC… LPC candidates will still have to do the exams and electives on the PSC, which firms will stop running shortly… ergo, they have to do SQE2 instead



PSC is a piece of piss and lasts like 2 weeks. SQE 2 is completely different. Much rather do lpc (which I already have) and do PSC.


We’re gonna be fineeeeeeee

Care to walk us through that brilliant logic?



The fact my firm (a city firm that pays over 50k trainee salary) has said that our maintenance will remain at 7k for a 12 month course (despite competitors offering 20k..) and they have confirmed we will not only be abandoned if we fail the sqe but in about 30k debt is really putting me off this TC. The sqe is hard and intense and making us relearn black letter law seems stupid. And things like making students travel long hours and not allowing them water is just plain ridiculous. Why is the SRA allowing this



Lol sorry bruh



What firm is this?


We’re gonna be fineeeeeeee

I was actually meaning to ask: if the firm drops you, can they make you give them the tuition fee grant money back? You mention you would be ‘in 30k debt’ – to the firm? Ironically as a future TC who’s still finishing undergrad I have no *functioning legal knowledge* yet so someone more knowledgeable please advise…


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