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​The Solicitors Qualifying Exam: What Does it Entail?

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The Solicitors Qualifying Exam: What Does it Entail?

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The route to becoming a UK qualified solicitor has remained consistent for quite some time. The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) have been qualification mainstays for many years, but as of September 2021, this is about to change.

The current situation

Currently, the GDL is a one-year course that non-law graduates must complete before undertaking the LPC. The GDL itself essentially acts as a conversion of your non-law degree into a qualifying law degree. The LPC, which is a crucial step in one’s qualification journey, is vocational in its nature and is meant to prepare a prospective solicitor for professional life. Think of it as a bridge between academic and professional life.

Over and above the GDL and LPC, the Qualified Solicitors Transfer Scheme (QLTS) is a separate route that can be explored by certified solicitors from a recognized jurisdiction in becoming a qualified solicitor here in the UK. The QLTS is divided into two separate sections. A Multiple-Choice Test (MCT) and an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). These two sections are regarded as being similar to the GDL and LPC. An article shared by one of our consultants provides a brief yet informative analysis on how long it takes to become a UK qualified solicitor and an overview of the QLTS itself, as well as a reference to which jurisdictions currently qualify as ‘recognised’.

A new route: the SQE

However, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has indicated its plans to introduce the SQE by September 2021. The SQE presents a complete overhaul of the current regime and is designed as a ‘one size fits all’ centralized approach to assessment. Ultimately, whether you are from the UK and plan to explore a career as a solicitor, or a foreign qualified lawyer who has the same intention, the SQE will be applicable to everyone. The SRA has advised that there will be a lengthy transition period to the new regime from 2021 to 2032, which means those who undertake the GDL/LPC/QLTS route before 1 September 2021, will still be able to follow the ‘old’ route to becoming qualified. The SQE itself will be divided into two separate assessments, much like the QLTS. SQE1 will test “functioning legal knowledge” and SQE2 will focus on practical legal skills that a solicitor would be required to hold in practice. The SQE1 will be particularly challenging and will consist of two separate exams of 180 questions each.

SQE vs QLTS: how do they compare?

It should be noted that the SQE is regarded as being considerably more onerous than the QLTS (as well as the GDL and LPC) and will entail approximately 11 hours of testing, as opposed to the 5 hours and 30 minutes that the QLTS currently takes to complete. As with any change, the initial introduction and subsequent development of the SQE will not be without its problems. How law firms, law schools and students adapt to the change will be telling.

Whether you are currently looking into starting a career in law or want to become a qualified lawyer in the UK, the introduction of the SQE will surely influence the way your next few years will be shaped. Make sure to fully understand your current options and assess the impact of the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination on your plans.


Tevia Kretzmer is a Consultant at Rutherford, the executive specialists in legal, financial crime, cyber security and compliance recruitment.
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