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How the SQE is forging new pathways into the profession

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By Sophie Dillon on

BPP’s Head of Client Development, Liz Ritter, talks apprenticeships, exam performance and ‘teething problems’ with the new route

“For the last five years, I’ve really been living and breathing SQE,” says Liz Ritter, BPP’s Head of Client Development. Six years after qualifying at Magic Circle law firm Clifford Chance, Ritter made the move into the learning and development space, and has since spent most of her career at BPP and in law firm learning and development. “For me, making this shift was all about having the opportunity to work with individuals; helping them become the best lawyers that they can be and supporting them to develop their own skills in their chosen careers.” Now, her role sees her helping legal employers of all varieties to navigate their way through the SQE system, identifying different pathways and programmes that best suit their business needs.

With the SQE firmly ingrained in her day-to-day, Legal Cheek Careers asks Ritter for her thoughts on its rollout over the past couple of years. “There have clearly been some teething problems. That’s partially since the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Kaplan have had to scale up so considerably as more students and law firms have transitioned over to the new pathways,” she explains. But it’s not all negative. “At BPP, we meet with the SRA and Kaplan on a fairly regular basis to pass on feedback that we gather from our student body and from the employers we work with,” she says. “These discussions have led to some positive changes, like those recently made to the booking system, which have had a positive impact on the SQE administration.”


But it would be no lie to suggest that these ‘teething problems’ have impacted confidence in the SQE regime, says Ritter, who will be chairing an SQE discussion at the LegalEdCon 2024. “These teething issues have had an impact on confidence in the administration of the SQE, but separately there is also a question of confidence as to whether the SQE in its current format is the best way to determine competence for future lawyers. There are very capable candidates who would make great solicitors but who are struggling in particular with SQE1.”

She continues: “From an employer perspective, one of their key concerns is certainty, and I don’t think we’re there yet. This is really important to employers, given their need to advance plan recruitment and resourcing.”

Find out more about studying for the SQE at BPP University Law School

It seems though, with the release of recent data, that there is one group of qualifiers reaping the rewards of the SQE regime. “I’m a massive champion of the school-leaver solicitor apprenticeship route,” says Ritter, acknowledging the success of apprentices when it comes to the qualifying exams. “I work very closely with many employers who are implementing these apprenticeships, and it’s been absolutely fantastic to see the success of so many apprentices making their way through to qualification.” But why are this group of aspiring lawyers so successful, particularly on the SQE2 assessments? Ritter tells us apprentices “sit the SQE2 exams towards the end of their six-year programme, and the SQE2 is ideally suited for apprentices because they’ve already built five or six years of practical, on the job experience.”

Since the implementation of the SQE regime, the school-leaver apprenticeship route is just one of the various pathways available for qualification with BPP. “This is one of the real advantages of the introduction of the SQE: it enables multiple routes to qualification. I don’t think you can say one is better than the other because different pathways suit different individuals and different employers,” Ritters says. Many law firms have opted to ‘frontload’ SQE preparation before the beginning of training contracts because they value the certainty that this brings, Ritter explains.

“Frontloading the SQE has also enabled law schools to offer programmes that help future lawyers develop wider knowledge and skills which align more closely with the type of work they’ll be doing when they hit the ground as a trainee. It makes these SQE candidates more practice ready.” She continues: “For example, our very popular master’s programme goes well beyond the SQE curriculum, with different pathways according to the type of organisation that they want to work in (general practice, commercial or corporate), together with an awareness of the impact of ESG, legal tech and AI on the practice of law.”

Liz Ritter will speaking at LegalEdCon 2024 on 16 May

Equally, the graduate apprenticeship model is particularly attractive to aspiring lawyers and employers, according to Ritter. “What’s exciting is the range of different organisations that have chosen to adopt the graduate solicitor apprenticeship and that previously might not have been able to support or sponsor aspiring solicitors in the same way,” she tells us. “We’re working with law centres and charities, law firms of all sizes, in-house legal teams, local authorities, police authorities and public bodies like the Government Legal Department. These diverse types of organisations provide new and varied opportunities, so that’s hugely attractive.”

With numerous qualification pathways emerging since the introduction of the SQE, we ask Ritter how BPP is uniquely preparing its students for success. “Most of our students are on modes of study that benefit from regular, live teaching from tutors who are experts in their fields, with access to our high-quality resources and MCQ practice questions, all supported by AI driven educational technology platforms to help students to success,” she says. “Our programmes also focus at every stage on development of practice-ready skills, using realistic case studies and incorporating trainee-type tasks as part of their learning.” In BPP’s latest results, 79% of first-time test-takers passed SQE1 in January 2024 across all cohorts, based on the verified results of over 75% of BPP’s students. “Ultimately,” says Ritter, “we’re preparing students for success in the assessments, but we’re also preparing them for success in their future careers.”

Find out more about studying for the SQE at BPP University Law School

Liz Ritter will be chairing a session on the developments to the SQE at LegalEdCon 2024, Legal Cheek’s annual future of legal education and training conference, which takes place in-person on Thursday 16 May at Kings Place, London. Final release tickets for the Conference can be purchased here.

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