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Why the SQE needs to be integrated into an academic programme so students reach their potential

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By Peter Hungerford-Welch on

City Law School associate dean Peter Hungerford-Welch explains the importance of skills and knowledge beyond the SQE curriculum

The new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) arrangements mean that would-be solicitors no longer have to be law graduates (or, if non-law graduates, have a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)) and no longer have to do the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Instead, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) simply requires candidates to pass the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments.

Some firms have expressed a concern that this will mean that new entrants to the profession are less well-equipped to enter practice. An SQE preparation programme that includes an academic qualification might allay some of those concerns and enhance the employability of candidates.

At The City Law School (part of City, University of London), before starting to design our SQE preparation programme, we conducted market research among both students and firms. This research led us to conclude that:

(a) firms would give preference, when recruiting, to applicants with an LLB or, if non-law graduates, a GDL;
(b) students and firms agreed that just studying for SQE1 would not give the same depth of understanding of the law, and the ability to apply it, as an LLB or GDL;
(c) students and firms agreed that just studying for SQE2 would not provide the same ability to acquire and hone lawyerly skills as doing an LPC; and
(d) an SQE preparation programme which also conferred a recognised academic qualification would be highly desirable.

In September 2023, the City Law School launches its new Solicitors’ Practice Programme (replacing our LPC from that date). This new programme has two exit points:

(i) a Postgraduate Diploma, which requires students to undertake two ten-week terms of study, term one modules covering SQE1 knowledge subjects, and term two modules covering SQE2 skills; and

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(ii) an LLM, which requires students to do an additional five-week term in which they study two electives, and they also have to carry out a legal practice research project leading to a written report which takes the place of the more traditional dissertation. For those on the LLM route, we are starting with a fairly modest list of six electives (Advanced Litigation; Advanced Commercial Property; Commercial Law & Intellectual Property; Employment Law; Family Law; Mergers and Acquisitions), but we will add to these electives as time goes by.

This programme will be open only to students who have a law degree or a GDL.

The programme is a full-time one, but it will be a blended learning programme, in which on-campus tutorials are supported by a rich range of online resources. This will enable us to timetable the tutorials over three days of the week, leaving two days clear for preparation and for CV-enhancing activities. Full details of City’s new SQE offering will be released in due course.

Peter Hungerford-Welch will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2022 on 12 May

As the City Law School’s associate dean for postgraduate and professional programmes, I chair the project team that is leading the development of the new Solicitors’ Practice Programme. I am glad to say that, in designing this new programme, we have had the benefit of advice from a panel of solicitors, drawn from a range of firms. This advice emphasised the importance of helping students to acquire the skills that will make them “work ready” from day one, skills that go beyond the curriculum of the SQE. Examples include the ability to communicate orally and in writing with a wide range of different people, awareness of how an office works, and an understanding of wellbeing and resilience.

The emphasis of our programme will be very much on acquiring the knowledge and skills needed not just for the SQE assessments but also for practice as a solicitor, and we will supplement this ‘employability’ focus with specialist careers advice and with extracurricular activities (including pro bono opportunities) to help our students boost their CVs.

Peter Hungerford-Welch will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2022, Legal Cheek’s annual future of legal education and training conference, which takes place in-person on Thursday 12 May at Kings Place, London. Final release tickets are available to purchase.

Find out more about studying at The City Law School

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