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How can the Solicitors Qualification Examination help in-house legal teams?

Many of you will be starting to familiarise yourself with the Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) and the changes that brings to education and career pathways.

Some of you may be wondering what that could mean to you and your in-house legal teams. With the introduction of a new process and lots of questions, it can be quite confusing!

So, what is the Solicitors Qualification Exam? 

The SQE was introduced in November 2021 and will replace the  Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) as the only route to qualify as a Solicitor in England & Wales over the next few years. For aspiring lawyers who are not already doing a law degree, LPC or conversion course the SQE is already the only way to qualify. 

The SQE consists of 3 key parts:

  • SQE1 – assesses legal knowledge through a two-part multiple-choice examination
  • SQE2 – assesses practical legal skills through oral and written assessments
  • QWE – qualified work experience demonstrates experience gained by providing legal services enabling lawyers to develop competences they are assessed on in SQE2

Whilst you no longer need a law degree, you do need an undergraduate degree which could be obtained as part of an apprenticeship (SRA | Solicitor apprenticeships | Solicitors Regulation Authority). New and alternative pathways to increase accessibility are opening up.  

Currently, c.9% of new solicitors joining the roll have qualified via the SQE route (SRA | Regulated population statistics | Solicitors Regulation Authority)

What does this mean for the Training Contract?

The traditional training contract will evolve, an aspiring solicitor will no longer need to find one of the few and far between spaces at a Law Firm. This creates considerable opportunity – particularly for in-house legal teams who can use this change to start to think about their workforce strategies and talent development programmes. Qualified Work Experience replaces the training contract – it needs to be gained over a two year period at up to four different placements and signed off by a qualified solicitor. The individual needs to develop the competencies required to be a solicitor but these competencies can be practiced in a legal clinic, volunteering, in-house legal team or in a law firm.

Are there concerns around quality?

Change always brings uncertainty for some and it is still early days with the SQE. However, the new process has been introduced to ensure consistent high standards for all through a centralized assessment process which is something the LPC didn’t do. The first set of SQE1 exam results provided a 53% average pass rate with BARBRI students reporting a 77% average pass rate. The first set of SQE2 exam results produced an average of 77% with BARBRI students reporting an 83% pass rate. The QWE element provides the individual with the opportunity to find experiences that will support their development and the businesses within which they work to look at how that is valuable to them. The SQE tests knowledge, competence and individuals’ ability to perform the role of solicitor effectively.

How can this benefit in-house teams?

It really could be transformational, but to get started…..

  1. Relevancy -  in-house teams can build relevant, value adding QWE opportunities for their trainees, paralegals and overseas talent as well as their businesses. 
  2. Cost – attracting, developing and retaining your own talent may be more cost effective in the long term than hiring from private practice. Especially now the solicitor apprenticeship route is established, meaning your organisation can use the apprenticeship levy they pay into
  3. Workforce design – thinking about the importance of in-house experience, commercial skills gained through development in this space alongside structure of teams from junior to senior talent. Bringing in junior talent and developing them to create the right balance of experience and competence.  
  4. Flexibility – designing a training programme that fits alongside other work commitments ensuring the individual has the opportunity to learn as well as get real, valuable work experience.

    Real change requires a vision, support and buy-in from multiple stakeholders and it can be a challenge to have the space to think about how this could positively benefit you and your team. 
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