Your preparation should not be seen merely as a means to passing the centralised assessments, but as essential for life as a solicitor, write Nottingham Law School’s Kate Mills and Jayne Dixon, ahead of LegalEdCon 2023
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (‘SQE’) will ultimately replace the Legal Practice Course (‘LPC’) and become the sole route to qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales in a major shake-up of professional legal training.
But what does this change mean for law students? In this article, we will explain some of the issues that aspiring solicitors will need to consider before applying for the SQE, based on Nottingham Law School’s extensive experience and expertise in advising and guiding law and non-law students through the solicitor qualification process for over 60 years.
Do I need to do a preparation course?
A major difference between the LPC and SQE is that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (‘SRA’) — the body that regulates the profession — does not require candidates to complete a SQE preparation course prior to sitting the SQE assessments. You can, if you wish, simply sit the SQE 1 and 2 centralised assessments on payment of the relevant fee. At the time of writing that fee is £4,115 (assuming everything is passed at the first attempt), but inflationary increases are imminent.
Although the option of sitting the assessment without completing a SQE preparation course sounds appealing, it is not an option that we would recommend. The reality is that the cost of sitting the assessments (and any resits) together with the broad assessment specification means that it is essential for most people to undertake a preparation course to maximise their chances of passing. The assessments are the gateway to the solicitor profession and are, rightly, extremely rigorous; it is salutary that in January 2023, the overall pass rate for the SQE 1 assessment was only 51%.
How do I choose where to study?
Once you decide that you will need to study for the SQE, you will need to find a training provider. The SRA does not regulate SQE training providers in the same way as they did for the LPC and as a result, new providers are entering what is a fast-moving and diverse SQE preparation market. This has significantly increased the choice of courses on offer.
There is now a range of providers offering a variety of courses from Masters’ level preparation for SQE 1 and 2, to the provision of self-study materials. You can choose to study solely in person, solely online, or through a combination of the two. You can expect to pay up to £17,000 if you choose to study a Masters’ level preparation course or as little as a few hundred pounds to buy self-study materials.
Remember: undertaking a SQE preparation course is an investment in your future legal career. Look carefully at the providers and see what they can offer to support you in your career development beyond the curriculum. Nottingham Law School (‘NLS’), for example, has its own award-winning, SRA regulated teaching law firm, NLS Legal, where students can work in a pro-bono capacity and obtain legal work experience in a range of practice areas. NLS students can also work with the national litigants in-person charity, Support Through Court. Both of these opportunities support the development of employability skills including those tested via SQE2. Cost might have an impact on candidates’ choices, but there are many other factors that are far more important.
When it comes to looking for an SQE preparation course you will need to consider whether you want in-person, expert teaching or whether you prefer to study purely online. Do you need funding for your course, and if so, could you do a Masters’ level course and benefit from a UK government loan? Do you want to prepare for both SQE1 and 2 at the same time, or do you want to have a break in-between assessments and obtain some legal work experience? Are you looking for a course that simply requires practice answering multiple choice style questions, or something more comprehensive? Would you like the opportunity to develop skills which complement your studies and put you in the best possible position to succeed in your professional life?
The answers to these questions will depend largely on your circumstances. For example, most of those who have recently completed an LLB will require extensive preparation, guidance and support for SQE and professional life.
By contrast, if you are a paralegal who has been working in practice for several years you may not need preparation in all of the practice areas. Instead, you may only want a course where you can pick and choose to study only those modules you are less familiar with.
If you are a lawyer qualified outside England and Wales, before selecting a SQE preparation course, you will need to investigate with the SRA what exemptions, if any, you are entitled to; for example, you may be exempt from SQE 2 so that you are only required to prepare for and pass SQE 1.
Our approach to teaching at NLS
As a full-service law school, NLS is an established provider of legal education. Our SQE preparation courses are tailored to suit the many ways in which individuals may wish to study. Our SQE 1 and 2 preparation courses can be studied separately, or as part of Masters’ level study which (subject to your eligibility) qualifies for UK government funding.
We also offer a solicitor apprenticeship course. Apprenticeship students obtain their qualifying work experience at the same time as studying for the SQE 1 and 2 assessments.
Recognising that not all candidates can attend courses in-person, we are developing an innovative online SQE 1 preparation course to suit those who are abroad, working full time, or simply prefer an online learning environment. We pride ourselves on the fact that all our students have the support of a personal tutor and pastoral staff throughout their studies and can benefit from the advice and support offered by the postgraduate employability team, together with opportunities to obtain legal work experience, including through NLS Legal. In addition, all our SQE tutors are former, or current, qualified practitioners.
We’re on a mission to transform not only legal education, but also our students’ lives and opportunities. We do this by embedding both academic rigour and real-world legal experience into our curriculum and extra-curricular opportunities, giving our students the knowledge, confidence and resilience they need to shape extraordinary careers. Our dedication to providing transformational legal education is also reflected in our commitment to social mobility, whereby we support the widening participation agenda through ensuring all our students are provided with a wide range of opportunities.
Do your research
When choosing a SQE preparation course, do not under-estimate the importance of selecting a provider where the law is taught in context and by supportive tutors who are themselves qualified, experienced practitioners.
Avoid focusing solely on the price, and instead, focus on the best course for your circumstances and one which can add significant value to your legal training. Ultimately, choosing the right preparation course will enhance your opportunities and the likelihood of your future success. If cost is a factor, find out whether any scholarship or bursaries are available.
Don’t be afraid to ask providers what additional skills, opportunities and experience will be offered. Look for the added value. Preparing for SQE is a significant moment in your professional development. Your time preparing for the SQE should not be seen merely as a means to passing the centralised assessments, but as essential preparation for life as a practising solicitor.
Jayne Dixon is a non-practising solicitor and Deputy Head of Postgraduate Programmes. Kate Mills is a non-practising solicitor and Course Manager of the LPC and SQE portfolio of courses at Nottingham Trent University. Kate Mills will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2023, Legal Cheek’s annual future of legal education and training conference, which takes place in-person on Thursday 18 May at Kings Place, London. Second release tickets are available to purchase..
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