For current law third years, you still have your options open – the LPC or SQE? In this article, the College’s Head of Curriculum, Jane Waddell talks through some of the differences of the education elements of the LPC and SQE to help answer the question that we get asked a lot – which one is harder?
So, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) are two different pathways to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. While both routes have their own unique characteristics, the difficulty of each can vary depending on individual preferences, strengths, and study habits. This blog focuses on the different courses, programmes and assessments.
The LPC has been the traditional route to qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales. It is a postgraduate course that provides academic and practical training to prepare students for the legal profession. The LPC typically takes about one year to complete full-time or two years part-time and is offered by various law schools and universities.
The LPC covers a range of legal subjects, including core areas such as contract law, criminal law, property law and equity and trusts. It also includes skills-based training in areas like legal research, drafting, negotiation, and advocacy. The course combines classroom-based learning with practical exercises and assessments.
The difficulty level of the LPC can vary depending on factors such as your prior legal knowledge, study habits and learning style. Some students may find the workload and the need to balance theoretical knowledge with practical skills challenging. The assessments are written by each training provider for its own students and often involve a mix of written coursework, exams, and practical assessments, which can require effective time management and preparation. Unlike the SQE, the LPC assesses students at the level of a day one trainee.
On the other hand, the SQE is a new assessment framework introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as a central standardised assessment for qualifying solicitors. It is designed to provide a more flexible and accessible route to qualification. The SQE consists of two stages: SQE1 and SQE2.
- SQE1 is a computer-based assessment that tests functioning legal knowledge and understanding across various areas of law. It is designed to assess a candidate's ability to apply legal principles and rules to hypothetical scenarios. It is worth noting that the SQE1 focuses on knowledge-based testing rather than practical skills, through answering 360 single-best-answer questions over two days.
- SQE2 is a practical skills assessment that tests the application of legal knowledge in simulated real-life scenarios. It includes sixteen written and oral tasks over three weeks across five practice areas. The skills are client interview and attendance note/legal analysis, advocacy, case and matter analysis. legal research, legal writing and legal drafting.
So, the SQE aims to provide a more consistent and standardised assessment process, allowing individuals to demonstrate their competence as solicitors in a more structured manner.
The difficulty of the SQE can depend on factors such as:
- the breadth of legal knowledge required, across thirteen practice areas, without any books or notes (closed book assessments)
- the ability to apply that knowledge in practical situations designed to test your ability compared to a newly qualified solicitor not as a trainee.
- the intensity of the exam days and format – For example for SQE1, you have five hours of assessment by way of MCQ’s in one day.
It’s also worth noting that unlike the LPC, SQE assesses students at the level of a newly qualified solicitor, so it is a higher standard of assessment than the LPC.
Variation across providers
I feel that it is important to recognise that the challenge posed by both the LPC and SQE can also vary depending on the provider or institution offering the courses or preparation materials. Of course, the quality of teaching, course content, and student support can all influence the perceived difficulty, so something for you to take into account.
For example, some individuals may find the LPC more challenging because it involves a more traditional approach to legal education and assessment, and the LPC pass rates vary from 25% to 100% across providers, while others may find the SQE more challenging due to its relatively new format and structure including its emphasis on assessing by way of MCQ’s.
Which qualification route do firms prefer?
We often get asked which route firms prefer, and it is changing rapidly. Now we are seeing the firms are fully supporting both LPC and SQE qualification routes, but with a strong move to the SQE for future years. Law firms want consistency and there are some firms now who are asking LPC graduates to take elements of the SQE, so their trainees have the same learning and standard of legal skills.
So, which route is harder?
Ultimately, determining which education route you might find harder or easier, the LPC or SQE, is subjective and dependent on individual circumstances.
Some individuals may find the LPC more challenging because of the significant amount of coursework, exams, and practical assessments, which can be demanding. However, the LPC also provides more extensive training across different practice areas, like some LLMs in Legal Practice, and may be advantageous for those who are looking for aa more in-depth learning experience.
On the other hand, the SQE is a relatively new assessment framework, and its difficulty level can be influenced by factors such as the quality of preparation courses and your prior legal knowledge and experience. But, the SQE's focus on standardised assessments will give you a more consistent assessment experience.
Regarding your choice of course, I would advise to research and carefully consider factors such as individual support, course content and student reviews when selecting a training provider for either the LPC or preparation for the SQE.
We also recommend you speak with individuals who have experienced either route, consult legal professionals or academic advisors, and thoroughly research the options to gain a better understanding of the specific challenges and requirements of each pathway.
Lastly, remember the education and exams are only one part of the qualification route, with the LPC you need to secure a training contract to qualify, or you have to take SQE2 anyway, so I suggest that you don’t look at the courses in isolation from the overall qualification routes.
We hope this article has been helpful for you, to understand more about the two routes to qualification, these resources will help you:
Want to learn more about the SQE pathway?
We tackle various questions on the SQE route, answer SQE FAQs, delve into QWE (the SQE's take on gaining real-life work experience) and much more in our SQE hub