The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has announced this week that the new assessment for qualifying solicitors, the Solicitors Qualifying Examinations (SQE) will be introduced in autumn 2021. Originally planned to be in place by 2019 and then proposed to be introduced in 2020, the exam will now be in place by autumn 2021, following feedback from education providers and law firms. This extra year, the SRA says, will allow time to develop training and transition to the new system.
The SQE will be a two stage assessment process, with Stage 1 testing legal knowledge and Stage 2 testing practical legal skills. The SRA published last week for the first time, the provisional fee ranges for these examinations, with SQE 1 estimated at £1100-£1650 and SQE2 at £1900-£2850. The fees vary due to differing assessment methods involved: written tests; computer based assessments and more expensive mock client interviews.
Although the SRA’s intentions for the SQE structure is to address the problem of large up-front costs for a Legal Practice Course (LPC), concerns have been expressed regarding the SQE’s affordability and whether loans will be made available, as with the LPC, to fund taking the assessments. If not, many fear that aspiring solicitors may be prevented from pursuing a career as a solicitor due to financial constraints, thereby negatively affecting the diversity of those entering the profession.
Kaplan, the educational services provider responsible for introducing the SQE, will be running pilots of the SQE1 in 2019, with candidate recruitment later this month. Once these pilots have been completed, more will be known about the final costs.
For those students who started a qualifying law degree or law conversion (CPE) before September 2021 they will have until 2032 to decide whether to qualify under the old or new SQE system. However, from September 2021, all other aspiring solicitors would need to qualify through the SQE.