Laura Thomas is the first lawyer at CJCH Solicitors to qualify as a solicitor through the Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) route. We asked Laura about her decision to qualify this way, how her law firm has supported her, her experience of both parts of the SQE, and her plans for the future.
The SQE is gradually being implemented as the unified method for qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales. It was introduced in 2021 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to replace the outgoing Legal Practice Course (LPC) and is made up of two parts: SQE1 and SQE2.
Q: Why did you decide to study law?
A: I can recall wanting to be a lawyer as young as twelve years old. It just seemed to be a natural fit for me. Whilst at school, I was on the debates team and was trained as a school counsellor.
When it came time to consider applying to university, I undertook some work experience at a law firm, which I thoroughly enjoyed, in particular my time within the family department. I then enrolled on a three-day law course at Nottingham University, learning some of the very basics in law, before deciding to apply to study law at university.
Q: What route did you take to study law and why?
A: I studied LLB Law at Cardiff University and graduated in 2018 with a 2.1. I had always intended to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC), but I decided to work for couple of years in between finishing my degree and starting the LPC. I wanted to get a flavour for the law in practice. Then in September 2020, I enrolled at Cardiff University to complete the LPC in conjunction with a Masters in Law. At that time, the LPC in addition to a training contract was still the typical qualification route.
I studied for the LPC and my Masters in Law on a part-time basis, with CJCH allowing me to work Monday to Thursday so I could attend university on a Friday.
Q: Why did you choose the SQE route to becoming a solicitor? What influenced your decision?
A: When I received my results for the LPC in July 2023, I had been working in law for approximately four years. Starting a training contract at that point would have meant at least a further eighteen months before I could qualify as a solicitor. My employer suggested that I complete the SQE2 to enable me to qualify sooner.
Q; What was your experience of the SQE process?
A: As I had passed the LPC, I was exempt from sitting the SQE1. I applied to take the July/August 2023 sitting of the SQE2.
Approximately three to four months ahead of my exams, I began my preparation. This involved revisiting my LPC textbooks and I taught myself the parts of the SQE2 specification that were not covered during my time on the LPC.
At the end of July 2023, I sat the first part of the SQE2 assessments: the written exam. This took place over three days. A couple of weeks later, I sat the oral part of the exam which took place over two days.
The results were not due to be released until late November 2023. On the day the results were released, I received an email from Kaplan, the SQE provider, with a link to my results.
Q: Having completed the SQE, was there anything about the process that really took you by surprise or you weren’t expecting?
A: It was largely the fear of the unknown. I had read articles online about how challenging the exams were but did not know anyone who had sat them.
The exams also assess multiple areas of law and I had not worked in all of these, so I had theoretical rather than working knowledge of some which made me nervous.
Q: When did you join CJCH solicitors and what do you do?
A: I came to CJCH Solicitors in late 2019 to undertake some work experience in the family department. After a few weeks, I was offered the role of Paralegal in the family department, where I have worked ever since.
In the last four years, my focus has been largely on children matters, both in public and private law proceedings. I have recently started to branch out into divorce and matrimonial finances. CJCH has enabled me to gain a thorough grounding in the area of law I was always keen to pursue.
Q: How did you manage both working as a paralegal, and undertaking the SQE and SQE2?
A: When I completed the LPC, I did so on a part-time basis, which involved working Monday to Thursday and then attending university every Friday. However, when I booked my SQE2 exams, I was working full-time. I used my lunch breaks, evenings and weekends to prepare for the exams.
CJCH Solicitors kindly funded my SQE2 exams and I was reassured by CJCH Solicitors that if the exams did not go as I hoped, I would be supported to sit them again.
Q: What area of law are you planning to practice in, and why?
A: Whilst I have experience in personal injury and mortgage litigation, family and childcare law have always been the areas I have wanted to work in, and the experience in CJCH has cemented this. I hope to continue my work within childcare law, in addition to building upon my experience in divorce and matrimonial finances to incorporate as part of my practice.
Q: Would you recommend this route to others? And if so, what advice would you give?
A: I would definitely recommend this route to aspiring solicitors who have been working in law for at least eighteen months. The SQE2 assesses your application of the law and therefore, the skills you develop in practice are crucial.
The LPC is costly and training contracts are difficult to secure. The SQE allows you to qualify without having either of these, however I would definitely recommend a preparation course to anyone who has not completed the LPC.
The specification is vast and you will need to have a good understanding of the law in those areas to be able to apply it correctly.
The firm’s view
Jodi Winter, Managing Partner & Head of Family and Childcare Law, CJCH Solicitors, reports the firm is inspired to see the next generation being afforded new opportunities and embracing this alternative pathway to becoming a qualified lawyer.
“I speak on behalf of my entire team when I say that we are so proud of Laura for achieving this milestone. Not only is this our firm’s first SQE-qualified lawyer, but seeing her thrive and take ownership of this process has been so encouraging.
“From four years ago when she arrived for work experience, to seeing that spark and talent in her which led to us bringing her on as a paralegal, and now to her being admitted as a solicitor via the SQE program. It is a true testament to how diverse and accessible our legal system is becoming, and the incredible young talent we have out there. Congratulations Laura!”