February 27 2019
SQE - The Student's Perspective
The SQE is going to have a profound effect on law firms, for Flexers and, most importantly, law students. Two Flexers have been chosen to be part of the SRA’s Pilot Scheme. We sat down and asked Caulyn Bong (CB) and Johanna Lipponen (JL) a few questions about the SQE and the Pilot scheme.
So you have been chosen to be on the pilot scheme for the SQE, could you give us a brief explanation of what the SQE is?
CB : It is the new system for qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales from autumn 2021 at the earliest, as announced by the SRA recently.
JL: The SQE will change the qualification process for solicitors. Currently, in order to qualify, you must complete a law degree, or a non-law degree with a conversion course before completing the legal practice course, and a 2-year training contract. The SQE is a standardised assessment, mostly made up of multiple choice questions, which all aspiring solicitors must pass, regardless of their route to qualification. The SQE is divided into two stages, the first stage covering legal knowledge and stage two testing practical skills.
How were you chosen to be part of the pilot scheme?
CB: The pilot scheme selection is aimed at candidates who are going to sit the SQE when it is officially introduced. With a commitment for the law, I satisfied the prior academic requirement of completing at least Stage 1 of the LPC. I also applied for the pilot scheme very early in November 2018, and I was then selected as a pilot candidate last month.
JL: I saw a post regarding the Pilot on SRA’s LinkedIn page, and decided to apply. I had to fill out an application form detailing at which stage of my legal career I was on and confirm my availability for the three test dates in March. Candidates needed to have completed at least the LPC core modules to qualify for the Pilot. I am currently studying the LLM Legal Practice (Solicitors) at BPP Law School and will finish with my core modules and skills (conveniently!) a day before the first day of the Pilot.
I got in my application early – I believe the SRA received a huge amount of applications to take part in the Pilot. I think qualifying candidates were chosen on a first come, first served basis, as the application form did not (to my recollection) contain any CV/Cover letter requirements.
What is the pilot scheme assessing?
CB: The current pilot scheme is for Stage 1 of the SQE comprising Functioning Legal Knowledge assessments and Legal Skills Assessment. Stage 2 of the SQE will be assessed separately.
FLK assessments include 3 domains: (1) Business Law and Practice, Dispute Resolution, Contract and Tort; (2) Property Practice, Wills and the Administration of Estates and Trusts, Solicitors' Accounts, and Land Law; (3) Public and Administrative Law, and The Legal System of England and Wales, Criminal law and Practice. Every domain will be tested with a 120-question multiple choice test.
Ethics and Professional Conduct are tested across all domains – which appears to be similar to the LPC. Principles of taxation will be assessed in the context of BLP, DR, PLP, WAET and SA.
LSA assessments cover Legal Research and Writing. For LR, candidates will be required to research an issue/issues for a client and report back with legal reasoning and key sources within 60 minutes. Writing requires candidates to write a letter or an email as a trainee acting in a matter – this is a separate exercise from the topic of research for LR.
JL: The Stage 1 Pilot consists of the “Functioning Legal Knowledge” assessments – essentially the LLB and LPC core modules such as business law, dispute resolution, contract, tort and criminal law. Stage 1 will also cover legal research and writing assessments.
The Functioning Legal Knowledge assessments are closed book, which is different from some LPC providers – although at BPP, we are only permitted to bring our statute books to exams, not actual textbooks or lecture materials.
You are part of the testing phase of one of the biggest shake-ups in legal education, are you excited?
CB: Absolutely honoured to be involved in the process of developing SQE which is the assessment for all aspiring solicitors of England and Wales after 2021! The SRA aims to widen access to the profession and ensure that it is diverse and representative. This aim is personally relatable and important to me, which certainly also applies to many aspiring solicitors.
JL: Definitely! It will be interesting to see how the “super exam” will work in practice, and to compare it to my LPC core module assessments which I have only just completed. I think change to the current (very expensive!) system is necessary, but I am concerned that candidates, who might not be able to fund a potentially expensive prep course for the SQE will struggle to pass it. That will all remain to be seen once the changes are fully implemented.
What are you hoping to get out of the process?
CB: I am excited to experience the differences or similarities between the current system (specifically, the LPC) and the SQE. If the pilot candidates may be asked for after-thoughts, I hope it will help the shake-up drive forward the legal education.
Students who have started a qualifying law degree or law conversion before autumn 2021 could qualify either under the current system or the SQE. This could open a new door for me leading to qualification. Following that, the pilot process will help gauge my performance for the 1st stage of the SQE – although the pilot does not exempt me from sitting the actual SQE when it officially replaces the current system.
As a bonus, a few leading firms are offering opportunities for the best performing pilot candidates, depending on the overall results and availability. I am hoping to secure great opportunities alongside helping to shape the SQE. Now it’s time to refer to the assessment objectives, revisit the LPC materials and maybe burn some midnight oil. Best of luck to all SQE pilot candidates!
JL: I’m hoping to test my own skills! Hopefully I will get the opportunity to give feedback on the exam to ensure it will run smoothly for future aspiring solicitors. I’m looking forward to meeting my fellow candidates and being part of the Pilot.