Appraising the Changes in Solicitor Qualification in the UK
Whilst studying law is one of the most challenging disciplines that students can undertake in the UK, it also remains an incredibly popular and rewarding pastime.
According to data collated from the academic year 2017/18, an estimated 26,655 students applied to study law at undergraduate level in England and Wales. From this number, a total of 18,850 were accepted onto courses, with this number expected to have increased during 2018/19.
However, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced significant changes to the qualification routes available to aspiring lawyers in April 2017. We’ve outlined these below, whilst asking when they’ll come into practice.
What are the Changes and How Will They Impact on Students?
Currently, in order to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales, students must complete either a qualifying law degree or a non-law degree and a conversion course.
They must then complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is a vocational component that usually precedes a two-year training contract with a reputable firm.
Under the new SRA proposals, however, aspiring solicitors can qualify so long as they’ve completed a degree course (which may or may not pertain to law) and at least two stages of centralised assessments known collaboratively as the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).
SQE Stage 1 tests will probe a student’s legal knowledge across three multiple-choice examinations, whilst the Stage 2 examination will test practical legal skills such as advocacy, drafting and interviewing.
The need for two years of qualifying work experience will also remain in place, although this will be more flexible than the current structure of the training contract.
Instead of requiring applicants to work this two-year period with a single employer, they’ll now be able combine roles with up to four different firms with any experience gained in provider-run legal advice centres such as the establishment at Nottingham Law School (NLS).
When Will the New Requirements be Officially Rolled Out?
According to the most recent updates, the SQE reforms will be officially introduced in September 2021, although it’s important to note that some transitional arrangements may enable some students to continue to qualify through the existing regime until 2032.
So, for an indefinite period following the implementation date in 2021, students will have the option to either take the existing LPC route or qualify through the new SQE upon the completion of their degree subject.
This choice can be made according to various factors, but it’s believed that the SQE will provide a quicker and more cost-effective route to qualifying as a solicitor. In this respect, it may make the notion of becoming a solicitor more accessible to students, and this can only be considered as a positive for youngsters and employers alike.
However, it remains unclear whether employers will give preference to the tried and tested LPC qualification route during the transitional period, particularly when recruiting for relatively complex legal roles such as risk consultants.
This could well impact the decision taken by students when they map out their future careers, particularly during the early stages of the new SQE qualification route.