The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) has been in development since 2015, with multiple consultations in response to which the Law Society has consistently put forward the views of the profession on key issues.
The SRA has now submitted its final application to the Legal Services Board (LSB) for the rule change required to implement the SQE. The LSB has said that it will take the full 90 days to consider the decision, which will be made by the LSB Board.
What will the SQE look like?
The final design of the SQE consists of two stages of centralised assessment, SQE1 and SQE2. In addition, candidates must have a degree level qualification, two years qualifying work experience and must pass a character and suitability test upon applying to join the profession.
The SRA believes this is the best way to meet the objectives set out for the SQE, which are:
- greater assurance of consistent, high standards at the point of admission, and;
- the development of new and diverse pathways to qualification, which are responsive to the changing legal services market and promote a diverse profession by removing artificial and unjustifiable barriers.
The timeline – accounting for the pandemic
The SRA will be implementing the SQE in September 2021, with a transitional period for those part way through their education and training.
The Law Society has recently welcomed alterations the SRA has made to the transitional arrangements, in line with recent representations made on behalf of education and training providers. The alteration to the transitional arrangements means that providers will have an additional year to prepare for the introduction of the SQE, should they need it, as the SRA will continue to approve qualifying law degrees if they start prior to 31 December 2021, as long as the student has accepted the place by 31 August 2021.
The extra time this gives providers is crucial due to the added pressure of Covid-19 and the resulting changes this has required from providers.
The SRA has also recently announced the finalised cost of the SQE assessments, which will be £3,980 in total:
- SQE1 will cost £1,558 for ten hours of examinations testing candidates’ functioning legal knowledge.
- SQE2 will cost £2,422 for 14 hours of written and oral tasks testing both practical legal knowledge and skills, such as advocacy, legal research and case and matter analysis.
The Law Society will be responding to the SRA’s application to the LSB to highlight potential equality diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues, to ensure that these are addressed by the SRA during the implementation of the SQE and to ask that a schedule for regular review post implementation be set out.
The SRA had commissioned the independent Bridge Group to review the SQE and make recommendations on actions to address any EDI issues. Key stakeholders fed their concerns into this work and the final report makes a number of recommendations for the SRA, which have been incorporated into the SRA’s updated EDI risk assessment.
Through ongoing and transparent data publication and evaluation, the SRA will seek to check whether the potential benefits it has identified are being realised and whether the mitigations it has put in place have minimised the potential risks.
Support for the profession
The Law Society is developing information and guidance to support the profession as the SQE is implemented. If you have any queries or comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.