Macfarlanes future trainees fear for careers amid firm’s ‘must pass first time’ SQE policy

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By Legal Cheek on


Follows Clifford Chance terminating TCs

As the shockwaves continue to be felt from Clifford Chance’s decision to cancel TC offers for several students who failed SQE1, future trainees at Macfarlanes are wondering if they could be next — after remembering that the firm has already committed publicly to a no-resit policy.

Macfarlanes’ graduate recruitment website states that “future trainees are required to pass all SQE exams (including the Macfarlanes essential for practice modules) on the first sitting”. Legal Cheek understands this policy has been in place for some time.

While this approach ensures that potential applicants understand what is expected from them regarding the SQE, it also places additional pressure on students — who are already under significant pressure due to the nature of the assessments — to pass first time around.

The SQE Hub: Your ultimate resource for all things SQE

There are murmurs that Macfarlanes could row back on its strict ‘must pass first time’ rule. Legal Cheek understands that despite the public statement on the firm’s website no final decisions have been made yet regarding students who may have failed the latest sitting of SQE1.

The Legal Cheek Firms Most List shows Macfarlanes recruits around 33 trainees each year and provides an SQE maintenance grant of £17,000. It sends future trainees to BPP, where the firm also covers training fees.

News of the policy comes just 48 hours after Legal Cheek revealed that Clifford Chance had terminated the training contract offers of around four future trainees who recently failed to pass SQE1 on the first attempt.

Last year, the City of London Law Society proposed several options for law firms to consider regarding trainees who fail the SQE. This included deferrals and rescission of the training contract, but warned the latter could could potentially lead to “negative publicity”.

Macfarlanes declined to comment.

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The difference between Mac and CC

The difference is is Macf has publicly told the students of their policy – CC did not. CC did not have any hardline approach or any inkling of what would happen. CC promised in face meetings and a chance to advocate on your self but they just got rid of everyone without any of this consideration

Huge nightmare from CC it seems


Do people not read the terms and conditions of the TC before signing?????


This is SO frustrating to keep addressing. 2024 starters signed their TCs in 2021/2022. The first sqe2 results were April 2022… NO ONE KNEW how insane the rollout and how incompetent Kaplan would be and the consistent failure rate. Getting tired of ‘well you read the contract!!’ – there can be unfair terms in contracts. Bit ironic these commenters think they’re better than the sqe1 failures when they don’t even know basic stuff


CC details in its contracts about the TC being terminated if you fail to meet the pre-employment conditions (including passing the SQE first time) – it was the same on the LPC. People just don’t think they will actually enforce it and they do say they will take account of personal circumstances (whether they did or didn’t here is a different question). They’re both in the wrong so don’t praise Mac for no reason 🙃


I don’t think anyone in this awful situation is in the wrong, certainly not the employer trying to enforce the contract. To be a lawyer, surely they must be able to be reasonable from studying the cases that explains what is reasonable and what isn’t, even if it is their own matter. Bad optics doesn’t mean wrong.

Especially the two sides are both lawyers, so communication should not be the problem. (Eg “Hello, did you pass? … Remember the clause in the contract? I’m going to enforce it because you didn’t pass.”) The court or tribunal will not look at the situation and say that the trainees deserve more protection because they didn’t think the contractual clause meant serious business. Very sad. But hardly wrong.

If firms want to control who becomes a solicitor, they already lost that power to SQE+QWE. The SRA should look into the practice of forcing trainees to do the SQE exam even though they have already done the LPC and do not need the SQE to qualify. The SQE should be a truly alternative route to the LPC-enabled training contract. Otherwise firms will always put itself first and treat workers horribly.

Future trainee @ McDonalds

Why all the sudden outrage and media hysteria over this? City law firms had the same policy under the LPC. Yes the SQE sounds more difficult than the LPC but it is doable. If you are good enough to get a TC offer, you are good enough to pass the SQE.

People need to stop complaining about the SQE and just get on with it. the SRA will unlikely change things anytime soon- they are so out of touch with reality.


True. Becoming a lawyer in E&W is, in the grand scheme of things, still pretty quick and easy. Just look at French and German lawyers next door and how much more rigorous and gruelling the system is.

Not really

As you well know, that doesn’t reflect the nature of qualifying as a lawyer, pre-SQE.

Pre-SQE, yes, it was very easy to tick off the academic requirements. It was then very difficult to get a TC, which was required of you wanted to qualify as a solicitor. I think there were around 6K TCs offered throughout the entirety of England and Wales…with 40K odd applicants.

France & Germany have much more arduous academic requirements…but once you have passed those exams and passed the bar (yes, it takes an age), you can practice as a lawyer.

Current McDonalds Burger flipper

This has also been my take on it. My TC was on the condition the LPC was passed first time around.

I get that there’s Complaints about the SQE being new or harder. But there’s still people that have passed, which shows it is indeed passable.

Is a high threshold for a career in law such a bad thing?

Boomer Buster

Pass rate for LPC was circa 95% for TC holders; SQE1 pass rate is far lower and a very new exam with serious problems

Exaggeration alert

Not far lower. 4 people out of 110 (in CC’s case) failing is not that bad percentage-wise. I know it’s hard on those who have to sit the exam but they will mostly pass.

Even in the LPC regime there was always some, however remote, chance you’d fail and I’ve seen it happen. If you’re a TC holder and applying yourself full time to SQE prep, should be doable. Not easy, but doable.


It’s 55, not 110.

Otherwise agree. The pass rate for TC holders seems to reflect the LPC. The difference lies in the stress and anxiety the SQE students faced to achieve the pass, compared to the LPC. You can pass the LPC with very little effort.


…and the Law Society Gazette currently has 5006 Solicitor roles on offer!


I think the difference is on the LPC, there was an element of discretion in marking and a marker would look at the paper submitted overall. There was room for adjustment. Here there is not. This is purely mechanical. It is a dangerous approach.


By dangerous, you mean fair?

Still passed though

Partners at my firm were shown a series of mock questions in the SQE and quite a few got the majority wrong. The SQE and LPC are pretty incomparable in a number of ways, so it’s not a case of “get on with it”. Firms need to adapt in line with the changes to qualifying, including softening such a hardline approach – it just doesn’t fit the exam model anymore.


The LPC didn’t have a 50% passrate and horrible structure. The SQE does.

The LPC didn’t test your knowledge to the standard of a NQ solicitor. The SQE does.

Please stop acting like failing the LPC and failing the SQE are equivalent.

Wistful for Guildford

Agree entirely. The difference between a Pass and a Distinction on the LPC seemed largely to be whether you’d been in the pub the night before. And to fail it you pretty much had to spell your own name wrong.


I sympathise with the firms, too, because they not only cannot decide though they try who comes into the profession at large, but also, as they can only decide who work at their firm, they can no longer do anything too selective without being criticised – the 52% who passed (of course deserving to be recognised) are psychologically sympathetic to the resitters and will always say it’s too harsh to give no second chance; the other half will of course be very disappointed who know they have good qualities to be a good lawyer and deserve a second chance.


Do people not read the terms and conditions of the TC before signing?????


Screw u loli


They do but what happens is the firm mentions that you need to get the overall pass mark.

When the time comes where you don’t do well even in a skills based module (which doesn’t contribute to the overall mark) the firm says no resit even then. Reading the terms and conditions of a TC barely matters in this case.


For people saying should’ve read the contract etc, I agree however Macs highers up said in October-ish the pass first clause was to remove a blanket resits allowed approach that had applied to the prior cohort and that individual cases would be looked at- this is not reflected in the actual wording of the contract, make of that what you will.

Have seen from Reddit that those who failed sqe1 there that last week a telephone call went round discussing revocation and repayment conditions to follow on an email ? Seems bizarre to suggest no final decisions have been made if that conversation has already been had

US Trainee

Legal Cheek need to start praising all the firms that do allow resits, I know a number of the elite US firms have had people fail their exams and have still been allowed to retake – no questions asked.

Wouldn’t be surprised if Legal Cheek start considering retake policies on their firm profiles


Because their intakes are so small they have to be more flexible… MC doesn’t have to be, they have so many applications they can afford to rescind the ones who don’t pass.


This would be a great idea. There are a number of international students who suffer greatly due to this issue.

1. We pay heavy fees to complete a law degree with finally some hope that our postgrad will be paid for due to our hard work.

2. One module and all of that gets washed away and we are then left with a 2 year grad visa to get back into the applicants’ pool and apply again after a rejection like that.

Can you name the few you know of? It would be really helpful for me since I’m currently facing this situation and it’s extremely hard to navigate my applications.


London trainees get shafted already. In NYC you just pass the bar and you are up and running as an associate, no two year “traineeship” which allows the partners an extra two years of profits of your back.

Green Tea

A 21 y.o. bachelor graduate with a degree in any discipline can become a solicitor. Not sure London trainees get shafted


Missed the point GT.


Yeah, you just need to do a 3 year JD that costs $50K in fees each year.

And trainees are not particularly profitable.


We are certainly better than America.


Lol – English guys… Rent free.


Right Brian. Good business sense…


Anyone aware of the A&O position on failing SQE1? Resits allowed?


Up or out. Get used to it.

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