Deciding if the LPC or SQE is the Right Route for You
LPC vs. SQE
The Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is the vocational stage of the current route to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales, will be phased out and replaced by the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in 2021.
While there is a window of opportunity for graduates who have completed the Qualifying Law Degree (QLD), or non-law graduates who have taken the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or Common Professional Examination (CPE), to complete the LPC after the introduction of the SQE, students and graduates are wondering whether it is better to stick to the current LPC route or take the SQE exams instead.
We have put together some considerations and scenarios that might fit your current situation to help you determine what choice is right for you, if you even have a choice in the matter at all.
The LPC is the traditional route to solicitor qualification in England and Wales for domestic candidates, while foreign lawyers are required to pass the QLTS exams.
Educational Institutions must be authorised by the SRA to provide the LPC. To qualify under current route you must:
- have a QLD, or GDL/CPE if you do not have a law degree;
- complete the LPC;
- undergo a two-year training contract;
- pass the Professional Skills Course (PSC); and
- satisfy the SRA character and suitability rules.
The LPC is divided into two parts: Stage 1 and Stage 2.
Stage 1 covers three core practice areas of law: business law and practice, litigation (civil and criminal), and property law and practice.
Throughout this stage, legal skills involving advising and advocacy, interviewing, practical legal research, writing and drafting, professional conduct and regulation, solicitors’ accounts, taxation, and will and administration of estates, are learned and developed. This stage must be studied with a single course provider.
Stage 2 involves vocational electives and allows for the candidates to specialise toward specific areas of their interest of the law, specifically private acquisitions, public companies, and debt/banking. This stage can be studied with more than one authorised provider.
If you have already been offered a training contract, you may be instructed as to where you can do your LPC, otherwise you have more than 30 different options in England and Wales to choose from to do the LPC. Most courses will include workshops, lectures, and private study time, combined with online tests and tutorials.
In summary, the LPC has a time commitment of at least two years. You will need to remain with the same employer, but you have a good chance to complete the qualification once you have secured a training contract.
The SQE is a single national assessment that all candidates must pass to become solicitors in England and Wales. The SRA have put in place transitional arrangements for those who have started the LPC route before 1 September 2021, the date the SQE will be introduced.
The SRA introduced the SQE to make sure that solicitors have high standards on the first day of qualification. The SQE also addresses the problem of inconsistent and variable provider dependent pass rates across the LPC and GDL. It provides a single assessment for all candidates, regardless of their background and route into the profession they have taken.
Eligibility to Qualify as Solicitor through the SQE
To be eligible to qualify through the SQE, you will need to:
- have a degree or equivalent
- pass SQE1 (you must pass SQE1 before you can take SQE2)
- pass SQE2
- complete two years of qualifying work experience (QWE) (foreign lawyers are exempt); and
- satisfy the SRA character and suitability requirements (at the point of admission and moving forward)
The SQE assessments are administered by a sole assessment provider, Kaplan, which has been appointed by the SRA. Kaplan is not permitted to offer preparation courses for the SQE.
The SQE is generally open to any person with a degree or equivalent, whether in law or other discipline. This applies to law graduates and equally to non-law graduates (GDL not required), apprentices, chartered legal executives, paralegals, and foreign qualified lawyers. Candidates will no longer need to complete the LPC or GDL.
Unlike the LPC, both domestic and foreign candidates will need to take the SQE to qualify as solicitors. The QLTS exams will be phased out, and candidates who have passed the MCT by 31 August 2021, will have the option to complete the qualification during a transition period.
The Format of the SQE
There are two parts to SQE: Stage 1 and Stage 2.
SQE1 focuses on Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK) and is made up of two FLK exams, each containing 180 multiple-choice questions with five options and single best answer. SQE1 tests how well candidates can apply their legal knowledge in real scenarios a solicitor may come across in practice across different legal areas.
The Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK)
The first FLK1 covers:
- business law and practice
- dispute resolution
- legal system of England and Wales; and
- constitutional and administrative law
- property practice
- wills and the administration of estates
- solicitors’ accounts
- land law
- trusts; and
- criminal law and practice
The Practical Legal Skills Assessment
SQE2 is a practical assessment and focuses on core legal skills. The exam comprises 16 practical exercises (four oral skills assessments and 12 written skills assessments). The exam puts an emphasis on the skills used in day-to-day practice, like drafting contracts and interviewing clients. SQE2 tests the following skills:
- client interview and completion of an attendance note/legal analysis
- case and matter analysis
- legal research
- legal writing; and
- legal drafting
These skills are assessed in the context of the following practice areas:
- criminal litigation
- dispute resolution
- property practice
- wills and intestacy, probate administration and practice; and
- business organisations, rules, and procedures
Training Contract vs Qualifying Work Experience
A period of two years of a training contract is an essential element with the current route to qualification. Finding a placement in a law firm has always been difficult.
The qualifying work experience under the SQE offers much more flexibility compared to the training contract of the LPC. The qualifying work experience should allow you to develop the competencies and skills needed to become a solicitor.
You can gain qualifying work experience through a placement during your law degree, working in a student law clinic, or as a paralegal, even before the SQE is even introduced. The qualifying work experience can either be paid or unpaid.
While you will still be required to work under the supervision of a solicitor for a period of two years, you could do so at more than one firm, and potentially at up to four different places (and not just in one law firm). This could make your journey more varied and possibly more in-depth.
If you have completed the LPC you could ask the SRA to recognise the combination of your qualifying work experience and successfully passing SQE2, as equivalent to the period of the training contract. This means that you may be exempt from taking SQE1. Given the difficulty of finding a training contract, taking SQE2 may be an appealing alternative to many LPC graduates who have relevant work experience.
Timeline for Qualification
If you are pursuing the LPC route, you will have until 31 December 2032 to qualify as a solicitor. This route is ideal if you need more time or require a break in your studies.
On the other hand, the SQE has timeframe of six years in which you have to complete the SQE assessments and apply for admission as an English solicitor.
Selecting a Training Provider
Taking a preparation course for the SQE assessments is not mandatory and, unlike the LPC, the SRA do not regulate or authorise training providers. However, the SQE Assessments Specifications (which form the syllabus for the exams) are comprehensive, and you will most likely need to take a structured SQE preparation course to succeed in the exams.
When selecting an SQE training provider, consider five things:
- Experience in the field or in a similar exam, such as the QLTS
- Scope and quality of the course materials
- Proven track record of successful candidates
- Preparation time and planning
Taking a few days, thoroughly researching SQE providers, and examining their pros and cons now will pay off in the long run by saving you time, money, and effort.
The total cost of the LPC ranges between £7,500-£17,000, depending on the institution you choose to study at. If you do the LLM (Master of Laws) alongside the LPC, you will have an option to obtain a student loan, however, if you choose to not go that route, you will have to fund it yourself or through your employer.
If you do not have a QLD, you will also need to complete the GDL. The fees range between £5,000-£12,000, depending on your chosen institution, and can be a full time or part-time programme.
The total cost for taking both SQE assessments with Kaplan will be £3,980: SQE1 costs £1,558 and SQE2 costs £2,422. However, this cost does not include fees associated with SQE preparation courses, which could run a few thousand pounds. They also do not include retakes, if a candidate fails an assessment.
If you study full-time, it will take about a year to complete the LPC, while studying part-time will be about two years.
Preparation time and planning for the SQE depends on various individual needs and circumstances. On average, it is likely to take about 9-12 months to prepare for both stages of the SQE exams. A typical timeline would be to commence preparation five to six months before the SQE1 assessment, devoting approximately 15 to 20 hours per week to this before preparing for and attempting the SQE2 assessment that ideally follows SQE1. Some candidates may decide to extend their studies over a longer period of time of 12 to 18 months.
For the SQE2 assessment, we advise that candidates should study approximately 15 to 20 hours per week over a three to four-month preparation period. Some candidates may allow themselves more time to prepare for the SQE2 assessments, typically this can be up to eight months.
LPC vs. SQE: Scenarios You Might Find Yourself In
Scenario 1 – You have completed the LPC and secured a training contract
If you have already completed the LPC and secured a training contract, you can still choose to qualify under the current route until 2032, but you will need to:
- have a qualifying law degree or the CPE/GDL
pass the LPC
- have a period of recognised training, and
- pass the SRA character and suitability requirements
You can also decide to take the SQE exams.
Scenario 2 – You have completed the LPC but do not have an offer for a training contract
If you completed the LPC, but do not have an offer for a training contract you might consider Equivalent Means to qualify under the current route. The Equivalent Means route requires that you complete a period of recognised training for at least two years under the supervision of a practising solicitor. You will also need to provide a portfolio that showcases the experience you have gained in the recognised training.
Another option for this scenario is to take the new SQE qualifying route. Experience equivalent to the QWE of the SQE can be substituted as recognised training, provided the SQE2 assessment is successfully completed, too.
Scenario 3 – You have not yet completed the LPC but have a QLD
If you have not yet completed the LPC but you have a QLD, you can still qualify under the current route until 2032. You will need to:
- have a qualifying law degree or the CPE/GDL
- pass the LPC
- have a period of recognised training, and
- pass the character and suitability requirements.
Alternatively, you can also choose to qualify via the SQE route after September 2021, providing you meet the SQE eligibility requirements.
Scenario 4 – You have not yet completed the LPC and do not have a QLD
If you have started or completed a QLD before, or if you have accepted an offer of a place on a QLD before 1 September 2021, you can decide between the two routes to qualify.
You will need to meet the requirements to qualify under the LPC or SQE which we have discussed above.
Scenario 5 – You have not yet started the QLD or GDL/CPE
If you have not yet started your QLD or GDL/CPE by 1 September 2021, you cannot take the LPC and must qualify through the SQE.
The SQE will begin on 1 September 2021. Split into two assessments, the first time you can sit SQE1 is November 2021. The first sitting of SQE2 will be in April 2022, and both assessments will alternate regularly thereafter.
In the meantime, in addition to studying for the SQE assessments, you can also work on completing your QWE.
With the LPC, you can technically qualify within three years of starting, so long as you complete the LPC full-time and start a period of recognised training.
So Which Route Should I Choose: the LPC or SQE?
Deciding if you should qualify through the LPC route or if you should wait and qualify through the SQE isn’t really black and white. It ultimately comes down to what your personal needs, career goals, time, cost, and preference are in some cases.
The SQE route will be considerably more cost-effective than the LPC, and it will take you a lot less time to qualify.
However, it is expected that there will be a low pass rate for the SQE assessments, which might make the SQE route to qualification more challenging than the LPC.
QLTS School can help make your decision easier and discuss what options might be available to you.
About QLTS School
QLTS School’s preparation courses for the SQE assessments have been designed and developed in accordance with the SRA requirements, are tailor-made to suit each candidate, and are completely flexible in study and time requirements.
We have trained thousands of lawyers for the QLTS assessments since 2011 and possess deep knowledge and experience in preparing candidates from the world’s top law firms for the QLTS, the model on which the SQE assessments are based. The structure, content and format of the exams, as well the skills which are assessed on the SQE and QLTS, are very similar.
Our course materials are suitable for candidates from a wide range of different backgrounds and varying levels of legal knowledge and experience in English law. This includes law or non-law graduates, apprentices, paralegals, chartered legal executives, or foreign qualified lawyers.
QLTS School offers a range of course packages for SQE1 and SQE2, which include textbooks, practice questions, revision notes, digital flashcards, mock exams, video tutorials, legal skills workshops, online resources and extensive tutor support.