Written by Dylan Caldwell, junior litigation executive in the medical negligence department.
In March 2018, the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), also known as the ‘solicitor super exam’ was given the green light by the Legal Services Board. It is an attempt by the SRA to freshen up the qualification process of becoming a solicitor and removes the necessity to complete the Legal Practice Course. The SQE will be broken down into SQE stage 1, SQE stage 2 and qualifying work experience. Its aim is to widen participation and utilise talent.
There are arguments that the current cost of the LPC and GDL restricts a number of applicants and that the SQE would therefore broaden access to those who may be restricted due to funding issues. However, one may believe this is a false illusion given that an undergraduate degree or equivalent will still be required prior to an aspiring solicitor sitting the SQE which has huge costs attached itself.
The SQE will encompass talent from various undergraduate degrees who wish to sit the exam given there is no requirement for the undergraduate degree to be law. Nonetheless, it can be questioned whether an undergraduate with no legal background will have the required knowledge in order to pass either stage 1 or stage 2 of the SQE. The LPC is the course which facilitates the legal knowledge learnt as an undergraduate into the necessary practical skills to be a successful solicitor. Removing the LPC has therefore attracted strong criticism as to whether qualifying solicitors will have the high level of knowledge required to be successful in such a demanding profession.
Many believe that the new centralised system is needed to stay up to date with current times and will embrace modern programmes such as legal apprenticeships. There is no doubt that the SQE will have a huge impact in removing the negative stigma which is wrongfully attached to those wishing to qualify as a solicitor without a legal background. The new centralised system will also help bring consistency to the profession which the SRA believes is lacking.
It is proposed that students who have started a qualifying law degree, LPC or GDL equivalent will be able to continue with the ‘old route’ of qualification until 2031. With the increasing criticisms from legal providers and numerous law firms regarding the SQE, there are concerns that those who have continued under the ‘old route’ will be favoured when selecting trainee solicitors in the near future.
The legal profession is currently saturated by those who have an LPC and who are competing for a limited amount of training contracts. The implementation of the SQE will do nothing to alleviate the argument that the profession will become increasingly saturated due to the predicted increase in those who will sit the SQE.
It is clear the SQE has divided opinion. One thing is for certain, both sides of the table need to come together for the SQE to work as intended by the SRA. Unnecessary difficulties will be distasteful to say the least as it will have a negative impact on those at the heart of the change, aspiring lawyers.