The board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has approved the final design of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), following the conclusion of its final pilot exercise.

A total of 167 candidates took part in the second pilot (the first concluded in summer 2019), designed to test SQE2 – the second part of the super-exam.

Of those candidates who responded to an end-of-pilot survey, 87 per cent agreed and 6 per cent disagreed that the legal skills questions they had been set were clear. Meanwhile 67 per cent agreed and 16 per cent disagreed that the questions reflected problems that might be encountered by a ‘day one solicitor’; that is, a solicitor on their first day in the job.

The SRA has taken away two key recommendations from the pilot. Firstly, Kaplan, the organisation given the contract to run the SQE, has recommended that the second part of the exam should be a uniform examination in which all candidates take the same assessment.

In 2016, the SRA had originally proposed giving candidates the option to choose two out of five legal contexts within which to be assessed. Kaplan raised concerns, however, about whether a consistent standard could be achieved by giving students this choice and the SRA has concluded that “the optional models explored in the pilot did not give sufficient confidence that all candidates would be assessed fairly against the same standard.” The board members voted 8-2 in favour of a uniform exam.

Kaplan has also recommended that the SQE Part 2 should be “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. This number of stations would achieve the high standard required to assess candidates’ competence reliably and precisely.”

Geoff Coombes, the SQE Independent Reviewer, said that the SRA will now carry out a final period of engagement with interested parties as well as publishing the final costs for taking SQE1 and 2 which he said “will be within the initial estimates of between £3,000 and £4,500 for both.” This does not include the costs of SQE preparation courses.

The SRA will make a final submission to the Legal Services Board this summer and, if approved, the SQE will be introduced on 1 September 2021. The first assessment – SQE1 – would then run in autumn 2021, with the first SQE2 assessment in spring 2022.

SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “Extensive input, expert and independent review and careful testing means we are confident that we have developed a rigorous, fair, world class assessment for all aspiring solicitors, regardless of background or route taken. The SQE will provide greater assurance for the public and employers that qualifying solicitors have met the consistent, high standards they would expect.”

How solicitors will qualify in future: the basics

SQE Part 1:

  • Tests functioning legal knowledge
  • Will consist of two exams of 180 multiple-choice questions
  • 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 could cost between £1,100 and £1,650, according to estimates from the SRA in November 2018

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.
  • Part 1 must be passed before Part 2 can be taken
  • Part 2 could cost between £1,900 and £2,850, the SRA estimates

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

Previously…

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