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The Legal Services Board’s (LSB) has approved in full the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

The SQE will be introduced from 1 September 2021, and the first examinations – for SQE1 – to  take place in November 2021.

Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA, said:

“We welcome the LSB’s decision. The SQE will provide assurance that all aspiring solicitors meet consistent, high standards at point of entry to the profession. It will also open up new and diverse routes to qualification.

“Our application and the decision notice itself show just how much work over very many years has gone into making sure the SQE is a world class, rigorous assessment.”

Those who qualify under the SQE will need to:

  • have a degree in any subject (or equivalent qualification or experience)
  • meet our character and suitability requirements
  • gain two years’ qualifying work experience
  • pass two stages of SQE assessment: SQE1 will test candidates’ functioning legal knowledge of the law of England and Wales, while SQE2 will test a combination of practical legal skills and knowledge.

The LSB’s decision follows a nine-year process of consultation on solicitors’ training. In the last 18 month the  SRA has worked with its assessment provider BARBRI Altior to refine the detail of the assessments through piloting, engagement, expert input and independent review. This has involved 26,000 interactions with interested parties, including around 200 meetings, events and webinars with a wide range of stakeholders.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Board, said:

“The SQE should ensure consistency of standards and improve diversity access to the sector. This should help increase consumers’ trust and confidence, create a profession that better reflects society, and widen access to justice.

“The SQE is untested, however, and not without risk. In reaching our conclusion, we have taken account of the assurances and commitments provided by the SRA, including to monitor and evaluate implementation and conduct research to understand the impact of the SQE on diversity and inclusion. We will monitor progress closely through our regulatory performance framework.

“Looking at the bigger picture, it is essential that the SQE is not seen as a panacea for the full range of ambitions that the SRA has and that we support…If the SRA realises its objectives, it should contribute to creating a legal sector that better meets the needs of the society it serves.”

Information for employers & practitioners

The SRA will now focus on preparing to run the first assessments, working closely with BARBRI Altior and all stakeholders. The first sittings for SQE1 will take place in November 2021 with the first SQE2 sittings in April 2022.

The SQE transitional period will enable people who have begun the process of qualifying under the current Legal Practice Course training route to finish under that route, or choose to take the SQE.

Further resources will be published by the SRA in the coming weeks, including information on assessment logistics, guidance on qualifying work experience and sample questions for SQE2. We will also publish a timeline of what information will be made available to help everyone understand the new assessments.

The SRA has announced it will run an SQE virtual conference, targeted at training providers, on 15 December, and an SQE session for law firms at its compliance conference. It has also launched ‘Career in Law’ on Instagram to help aspiring solicitors understand what the SQE means for them.