Background to the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE)

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is due to be introduced from autumn 2021 as a core requirement for qualifying as a solicitor.

It is a core element of changes due to be brought in by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to the route to qualification as a solicitor.  It is being introduced with the aims of:

  • ensuring high standards and consistency in assessing the functioning legal knowledge and skills of prospective solicitors
  • improving access to and diversity in the legal profession

The SRA intends to achieve the first of these aims by requiring prospective solicitors to pass two rigorous, centralised assessments: SQE1 and SQE2.

It aims to achieve the second aim by:
  • providing access to the SQE to anyone who has a degree in any subject, or equivalent experience; and
  • replacing the stipulation to complete a 2 year training contract with a law firm, with a requirement to gain 2 years qualifying work experience.

The SRA also intends that access to the profession will be improved by reducing the cost of qualification, and enabling routes to qualification that will allow candidates to combine earning and learning.

SQE The current proposals for the SQE are that it will comprise two sets of assessments: SQE1 and SQE2. Candidates will only be able to take SQE2 after passing SQE1.   SQE1 will test candidates on their functioning legal knowledge of substantive and procedural law and SQE2 will test candidates’ practical legal skills.

The SRA has published a full assessment specification for SQE1, although it may decide to add to SQE1 an additional skills assessment.  The full SRA statement of the legal knowledge that solicitors are required to demonstrate at the point of qualification, and further detail on SQE1, is available from the SRA website.

A full SQE2 specification is expected to be available at some point from Spring 2020.  SQE2 is being piloted in late 2019 and the specification for the pilot is available from the SRA website

The SRA will confirm the final format of SQE2 in 2020 following a review of a pilot version of the assessment in late 2019. The final format of SQE also requires approval from the Legal Services Board, likely to be in late summer 2020.

Qualifying work experience In addition to passing SQE1 and SQE2, all candidates will need to complete at least two-years full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience to become a solicitor. There are a number of ways in which qualifying work experience can be gained including on placement during a law degree, in a law clinic, as part of a training contract or working as a paralegal. 

Full details are available from the SRA website.

Timing  The SRA is currently planning for the first SQE1 assessment to be held in November 2021.

Cost The SRA currently estimates that sitting the SQE will cost between £3,000 and £4,500, the individual assessment fees being £1,100-£1,650 for SQE1 and £1,900-£2,850 for SQE2. The final fees will be known once the SRA finalises the full detail of the SQE assessments that we understand will some time towards the middle of 2020.

Transitional arrangements The SRA is proposing that anyone who has started, completed or accepted an offer for a qualifying law degree or common professional examination (CPE or GDL) by the time that the SQE starts in autumn 2021, can choose to qualify by either of the existing or SQE routes