The fees for the new Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) have been revealed.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has confirmed that the candidate fee for the exam, to be introduced in September 2021 subject to approval from the Legal Services Board, will be £3,980.

This will include £1,558 for SQE part 1 – two exams consisting of 180 questions each that assess candidates’ functioning legal knowledge – and £2,422 for Part 2, the written and oral tasks which asses practical legal knowledge and skills, covering advocacy, client interviewing, legal research, legal writing, legal drafting and case and matter analysis.

The thinking behind the two-part model is that those students who fail SQE1 will not go on to study the more expensive second part.

The fees only cover the cost of the exam, not the cost of training, which will vary depending on a candidate’s choices.

The figure is in line with the estimate made by the SRA in 2018, when it said the exam could cost between £3,000 and £4,500.

SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “Our priority is creating a single rigorous assessment that gives everyone confidence that aspiring solicitors meet high, consistent standards at the point of entry into the profession. We also need to make sure the SQE is value for money and we are today confirming competitive assessment fees well within the original estimates.

“In the current system, many people are put off by the high up-front costs of the Legal Practice Course – up to almost £17,000 – with no guarantee of a training contract. The SQE should give people more training options and more affordable ways to qualify, including earn-as-you-learn routes such as apprenticeships.”

Given the Covid-19 pandemic, the SRA has also updated its arrangements for the transition to the SQE.

Philip said: “It will be some time before the longer-term implications of the Covid-19 pandemic are properly understood but we want to give some extra time to prepare for SQE for those who need it. Our changes to the transition arrangements provide more flexibility for both students and universities, as we introduce SQE in 2021.”

Students who have accepted an offer for a QLD or CPE on or before 31 August 2021, and who go on to start their course on or before 31 December 2021, will now have a choice to qualify under the old system until 2032, or through the new SQE.

Design and implementation of the SQE has been years in the making, having kicked off with the publication of the, itself much-delayed, Legal Education and Training Review in 2013.

How solicitors will qualify in future: the basics

SQE Part 1:

  • Tests functioning legal knowledge
  • Will consist of two exams of 180 questions each that assess candidates’ functioning legal knowledge
  • Questions will be complex, with ‘single best option’ answers rather than ‘right/wrong’ ones
  • A small legal skills assessment was included in pilot but deemed a failure and has been redesigned so it just covers functioning legal knowledge, testing the application of key principles of legal knowledge to practical situations.
  • Part 1 to cost £1,558.

SQE Part 2:

  • A single examination consisting of between 15 and 18 tasks (or ‘stations’) in which candidates’ skills are sampled across the range of reserved activities and business law and practice.
  • Written and oral tasks.
  • Assesses practical legal knowledge and skills, covering advocacy, client interviewing, legal research, legal writing, legal drafting and case and matter analysis.
  • Part 1 must be passed before Part 2 can be taken
  • Part 2 to cost £2,422.

Work experience

  • Two years of work experience must be completed before qualification
  • Can be completed in chunks at different organisations or all in one go
  • Parts 1 and 2 of the SQE can be taken before, during or after work experience is obtained

Other requirements

  • To qualify as a solicitor candidates must have been awarded a degree or an equivalent qualification, or have gained equivalent experience
  • They must also be of satisfactory character and suitability

The GDL and LPC

  • Set to be gradually phased out as SQE is brought in
  • But law schools and other organisations are now designing similar courses

The SQE: a timeline…

8 Jun 20: SRA signs off final super-exam design after pilot ends

3 Dec 19: BPP gets contract to run super-exam prepper courses for six City giants

10 Sep 19: Deloitte to offer three-year-long “SQE training contracts”

2 Sep 19: BPP reveals launch date – but not cost – of first SQE-ready law conversion course

31 Jul 19: SRA could drop skills test from super-exam Part One after first pilot

8 Nov 18: Super-exam could cost up to £4,500 as SRA pushes back start date to 2021

1 Aug 18: Kaplan gets contract to run super-exam – but no word yet on cost

25 Apr 17: GDL and LPC set to vanish as SRA announces super-exam will launch in 2020

13 Jan 17: “Fundamentally flawed”: Academics savage super-exam proposals

3 Oct 16: Super-exam: SRA aims for 2019 as it revises proposals

8 Dec 15: SRA proposes final ‘super-exam’ at point of qualification

9 Nov 15: Junior lawyers “confused” by SRA plans for centralised assessment

3 Sep 15: Exams, ethics and roleplay: government reveals more details of solicitor apprenticeship route

16 Jul 15: City firms attack SRA training proposals as “undermining position of English law as a qualification”

15 Apr 15: First paralegal to qualify through non-training contract ‘short cut’ admitted as a solicitor

3 Nov 14: ULaw ‘articled apprenticeship’ to allow school leavers to qualify while working

20 Aug 14: Government approves standards allowing apprentices to qualify as solicitors

21 Oct 13: SRA chairman questions wisdom of training contracts

25 Jun 13: Revealed at last: details of the Legal Education and Training Review

26 Nov 12: Points of review: will the LETR achieve its objectives?