The SQE and the opportunities for In-house legal

SQE is a game changer in terms of it can be easier access to in-house law rather than following a traditional law firm route which can promote inclusion and diversity.

Tom Armstrong on 28/06/23

The SQE has been running for nearly 2 years, and we have learnt a lot about the new route for qualification in England and Wales during that time.

The SRA decided to introduce the SQE to address two things within the legal industry:

1.   Greater assurance of consistent high standards at the point of admission as a solicitor; and
2.   New and diverse pathways to qualifying as a solicitor which:

  • respond to the changing legal services market; and
  • promote a diverse profession by removing artificial and unjustifiable barriers.

Although law firms have understandably been quick to react to the change in pathway, the in-house market is seemingly more hesitant to embrace the change, and start nurturing their talent through this new pathway. 

From my personal conversations with in-house lawyers there seems to have been two key determining factors in up take of the SQE.

1. How do you set the infrastructure in place to successfully nurture your talent in-house.

2. Why?

Support is required irrespective of which route is being undergone by the trainee, however with the SQE’s new qualifying work experience (QWE) requirements, the restrictions on what scope of legal work is required has been greatly decreased compared to the LPC/training contract route. It must simply be grounded in legal work and provide candidates with the opportunity to develop some or all of the SRA competences, which broadly relate to areas of legal knowledge and legal skills. This means more organisations already have the existing infrastructure in place to nurture their own talent, and all is required on top is added support to ensure the candidate can succeed whilst qualifying.

This can take different forms, but often it is as simple as more 1:1 catch ups between the candidate and line manager, and ensuring they have enough time over the 18-24-month period whilst they take their exams to properly prepare.

The SQE is also a more cost-effective route, with the minimum cost for the SQE now around £4,500 (as of September 2023) comparative to the LPC’s average price of £13,000. As the SQE can also be completed at the same time as compiling QWE, or even after, this allows more scope for in-house teams to bring in diverse talent who previously were not in the position to fund a LPC or were trapped in the bottleneck of LPC candidates who never secured a TC. If a student has completed the LPC, they are exempt from the first portion of the SQE, the SQE1 exams, so the cost to qualify someone in house can be as little as £2,766.

Therefore, to summarise my first point, the infrastructure needed to successfully offer a SQE training scheme may seem daunting at first, but in actuality, as long as the support systems are in place to ensure the candidates well-being and progress is regularly being checked in on, the QWE requirements and costing of the route allow for a relatively easy implementation of a formal training scheme within even the smallest of legal teams.

From my countless conversations with in-house teams, there are banks of legal talent who are interested in qualifying through the SQE route already existing within their teams, and the most exciting draw for these teams is they can utilise the SQE to not only attract new talent but retain their current talent and ensure past qualification they are committed to working within their organisation. This presents the opportunity for corporates to therefore attract new, diverse talent for much less (average paralegal salary in the UK is £23,601) than attracting a full qualified city lawyer (average NQ salary in the UK is £74,410).

So, to address the question as to why, it is important to think about the biggest problems facing the legal sector right now. Between budgets being squeezed, demands on productivity to be increased, and ever-growing concerns over attracting new, diverse talent into the sector, if implemented correctly, there is little the SQE cannot do to aid each one of these issues. For a relatively low cost, in-house teams can implement systems whereby they reward their outstanding performers by upskilling them, allowing them to take on more technical work in the long run, whilst implementing systems to ensure they retain that talent once they qualify. 

If you would like to find out more about the SQE, and here from individuals actively involved in each area of the SQE, from training provider, to QWE and in-house specialists, to the head of a unique legal team who have recently implemented the SQE, please do join the CLL and BARBRI for our event -  SQE Legal In-house 101: Attracting, Nurturing & Retaining legal talent on the 13th September, 13:00-14:00. 

If you have any questions on the above please visit BARBRI to find out more. 

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