The below is intended as a guide for aspiring solicitors who have questions about the SQE route to qualification, in particular anyone considering transferring to law from a different career.
To briefly describe my own background, around two years ago I decided to retrain in law and work towards qualifying as a solicitor. I’m a 33 year-old non-law graduate and prior to studying the SQE1, I had no legal training. After a nine-month period of juggling study with my (non-law) work, I sat the July 2022 SQE1 exam, passing at the first attempt with high marks. After a brief period interning part-time at my local Law Centre, in July 2023 I was delighted to join the Social Welfare team at TV Edwards as a paralegal.
An important caveat: I’ve yet to commence preparation for the SQE2, so what follows is very much focused on the SQE1 element. This blog will not go into too much detail on qualifying work experience (‘QWE’) under SQE either, but if you do have questions around this, you are advised to read the relevant SRA guidance.
Why take the SQE?
Unless you started your legal training journey (e.g. started a law degree) before September 2021, you now have to pass the SQE in order to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales.
A clear benefit of the SQE route is that it offers candidates greater flexibility than the former Legal Practice Course (‘LPC’) and training contract scheme. In my case, I was able to prepare for SQE1 working three days per week and studying in my free time. My circumstances prevented me from undertaking the GDL, but it’s worth noting that candidates who don’t already have a postgraduate degree may be eligible for a postgraduate student loan, which could cover a postgraduate qualification (such as an LLM) doubling up as a preparation course for SQE1.
Another potential benefit for SQE candidates is that there’s no need to secure a traditional training contract to qualify as a solicitor. Instead, candidates must pass all the elements of the SQE and also register two years’ QWE. QWE is defined as providing legal services and developing at least two of the solicitor competences, and can be undertaken in up to four different organisations.
The SQE1 assessment
SQE1 tests functioning legal knowledge (‘FLK’) and is made up of two parts – FLK1 and FLK2 – each consisting of 180 multiple choice questions. The SRA states the questions in SQE1 are designed to test the application of fundamental legal rules and principles “…at the level required of a competent newly qualified solicitor”. It is a challenging exam which only around half of candidates pass.
FLK1 tests business law and practice; dispute resolution; contract; tort; the legal system of England and Wales; constitutional and administrative law; and EU law and legal services, while FLK2 tests property practice; wills and the administration of estates; solicitors’ accounts; land law; trusts; and criminal law and practice.
For more detail on the SQE1 assessment specification, you are highly encouraged to read the SRA’s guidance here. On this page, the “Legal Knowledge” dropdown includes topic of law you will need to learn for SQE1.
Student Top Tip #1: Copy the detailed breakdown of the SQE1 syllabus into your own separate document and reference this frequently while revising. Click on the “Legal Knowledge” drop downs on the SRA web page above to reveal a thorough list of everything that might be assessed in SQE1.
Preparing for the SQE1 exam
Another positive of the SQE route is that candidates have a broad selection of learning providers to choose from. I chose a course from QLTS since I was drawn to the flexibility of being able to study around my work commitments. Their course content was made up of textbooks and an online database of practice questions, digital flash cards, videos, and mock exams.
I began studying in October 2021 and took the July 2022 exam, giving me around nine months to prepare. My first step upon receiving my study materials and analysing the assessment criteria was to draw up a detailed study plan, ensuring I left myself enough time to review the course content and factoring in several intensive weeks of mock exams in the immediate lead-up to assessment day (I cannot stress enough how important the mock exams are).
A typical study day entailed reading approximately 100 pages of a textbook, then testing my knowledge on this area of law through practice questions, before moving onto the next topic. This approach enabled me to get through the entire syllabus relatively quickly and meant I could return to focus more time on the trickier topics. I was able to commit approximately 15-20 hours to studying each week. Every candidate will be different, but this was enough time for me to get to grips with the SQE1 syllabus.
Student Top Tip #2: Some of the more complex and abstract legal concepts will take longer to understand, so be sure to make use of various free legal blogs online to supplement your learning (like the TV Edwards News & Blogs page).
Booking your SQE1 assessments
You should be ready to book your assessments as soon as the relevant booking window opens, and you should not delay this, because so far there have been more candidates than there are available slots.
The cost to sit the SQE1 assessments at the moment is £1,798 (£899 for FLK1 and £899 for FLK2). SQE2 costs a further £2,766 to sit.
Student Top Tip #3: Look out for WhatsApp groups and other networking opportunities which could act as your SQE peer group. As a solo-studier with limited connections working in law, it was nice to be able to discuss the pressures of the exam with people experiencing the same, but more importantly I was sent relevant posts and updates which were very useful too.
The day of the exam(s)
The exams themselves are quite gruelling, with FLK1 and FLK2 each lasting five hours on separate days (you do get an hour break in each). All I will say for exam day is do your best to have a stress-free morning, arrive at the exam centre with plenty of time to spare, and ideally be as well-rested as possible.
You should get your results within five-six weeks of the exams.
SQE2… and qualification?
Once you’ve passed the SQE1, it’s time to start thinking about SQE2. SQE2 assesses practical legal skills. It also has two parts – oral assessments over two consecutive half days, and written assessments over three consecutive half days.
After passing SQE2, and registering two years’ QWE, all that remains is to pass the SRA’s character and suitability requirements, and then you can apply to be admitted to the roll of solicitors.
My work as a paralegal in the Social Welfare department at TV Edwards will form part of my QWE and it is great to think that I am relatively close to becoming a qualified solicitor having only started on this journey two years’ ago.
Disclaimer: The information on the TV Edwards website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication.