For decades, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) has been the route to become a qualified solicitor in England and Wales. Students were required to graduate with a qualifying law degree (LLB) or have undertaken a conversion course such as the Graduate Diploma in Law or the Postgraduate Diploma in Law, before undertaking the LPC.
The legal industry is now switching things up.
Later this year, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) comes into force, and from September 2021, students will be able to choose whether to qualify under the existing routes or the SQE route.
With this change in legal training – you’re bound to be wondering, “What are the differences between the LPC and the SQE?”, “How do I know which is the right route for me?”.
First, let’s take a look at the differences between the two.
Under the LPC, you will need to have graduated with an LLB or taken a Graduate Diploma in Law or a Postgraduate Diploma in Law.
The SQE has opened the doors for students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to qualify as a solicitor. You’ll need a UK undergraduate degree, or a qualification or work experience which is equivalent to a UK degree. For example, this could be a solicitor apprenticeship.
In essence – it is not a requirement of the SRA to have previous legal knowledge to undertake the SQE.
Examinations and assessment.
The LPC is divided into two parts. Stage one comprises foundation modules which are the same for everyone. The most important part of this stage are the core practice areas that will complement your undergraduate study or your graduate conversion course. These are Business Law and Practice, Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation, and Property Law and Practice.
In addition, you will gain a whole host of skills such as Advocacy, Interviewing and Advising, Practical Legal Research and Drafting Legal Writing.
During stage two, you can choose between three electives which allow you to specialise in the areas which align with your career goals. These may include Corporate Finance, Commercial Law and Intellectual Property, and Immigration Law, amongst many others.
LPC exams are varied – with multiple-choice questions, written examinations, oral examinations, and take-home assessments.
The SQE is a standardised exam for aspiring solicitors.
The first stage of the SQE, SQE 1, is divided up into two papers which have a whole host of practice areas, such as Business and Dispute Resolutions, Civil and Criminal Litigation, Property Law and Practice, and Criminal Law. These are typically regarded to be undergraduate law subjects, like Business Law, Contract Law, Tort Law, Administrative Law, Estates and Trusts.
These two papers comprise of 180 multiple-choice questions and each last 5 hours and 6 minutes.
Although you may think that multiple-choice could be easy, all five answers will look plausible as they’re marked on a ‘single best answer’ basis, which will make it extremely difficult if you don’t have that same legal knowledge and understanding as someone who has completed an LLB or a law conversion course.
Now for the SQE 2.
You must have passed the SQE 1 in order to progress to the second stage of the SQE.
The second stage of the SQE assesses your skills. These include face-to-face assessments for oral skills, including client interviewing, legal analysis, and advocacy. There are also online assessments which test your written skills, such as case and matter analysis, legal research, legal writing, and legal drafting.
Qualifying Work Experience vs. Training Contract.
Under the LPC route, you are required to complete a training contract, which is two years of regulated work-based training, typically undertaken with just one employer.
If you follow the SQE route to qualification, you will need to undertake two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE), which can be carried out in a maximum of four periods, at up to four organisations.
This provides you with flexibility and the opportunity to develop your knowledge and skills in a range of different settings.
QWE can be gained at any time during your SQE journey, however, the SRA anticipate that you will have undertaken a significant amount of QWE before attempting to sit the SQE 2 assessments. However, we anticipate that most firms would want their trainees to have completed their SQE 2 before starting their QWE.
Character and Suitability.
Whether you take the LPC or SQE route to qualification, you will need to meet the SRA requirements for character and suitability in order to be admitted as a solicitor.
Character and suitability will be checked at the point at which you apply to be a solicitor.
Which is the right route for you?
Whether you choose to take the LPC or SQE route is ultimately your decision as it is based on your personal circumstances.
If you’re a non-law graduate, the SQE route would be best for you as it’s suitable for individuals from a wide range of backgrounds. It also allows you to take more varied work experience with QWE.
If you’re an LLB graduate or have undertaken a law conversion course, then you may prefer to go down the traditional route of taking the LPC – which offers structured, linear training.