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SQE - Becoming an English Solicitor

Becoming a Solicitor of England and Wales

Learn more about solicitor training, the legal profession, and the work of a solicitor

Solicitor training

Choosing a career as a solicitor can be a challenging, yet rewarding life choice. While solicitor training involves a serious time and financial commitment upfront, if you are motivated, determined, and willing to put in the work, you can be well-prepared for a successful, life-long career.

The solicitor profession is highly regarded and respected in England and Wales and internationally. Completing the solicitor training route will open up various career opportunities for you.

You should therefore do your research carefully before pursuing the solicitor training programme to make sure this pathway is for you.

The solicitor profession

Solicitors are legal professionals who are qualified to practise the law of England and Wales, after completing a set of assessment and a solicitor training period.

Solicitors provide legal services to individuals, companies, and organisations both in the UK and worldwide, covering the full spectrum of criminal and civil English law. The solicitors’ profession includes single-solicitor practices, huge firms with a global presence, and in-house work.

The regulatory framework governing the solicitor’s profession and training restricts anyone except qualified solicitors from offering ‘reserved activities’, relating to the:

  • exercise of rights of audience
  • conduct of, and the preparation of documents in, court and immigration tribunal proceedings
  • preparation of instruments and the lodging of documents relating to the transfer or charge of land
  • drafting of trust deeds disposing of capital
  • preparation of papers on which to found or oppose a grant of probate or a grant of letters of administration
  • administration of oaths and statutory declarations; and
  • undertaking immigration work not included under these reserved activities.

The work of a solicitor

Solicitors are often the first point of contact for both individual and corporate clients who seek legal advice or help solving a problem. Solicitors tend to specialise in one or two areas of law, such as corporate, dispute resolution, or criminal law. Normally, solicitors train in law firms where they begin to develop their areas of expertise.

Solicitors can also work in the legal departments of organisations, central or local governments, law centres, and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The work of all English solicitors may be characterised fundamentally as that of problem solving and project management. Solicitors help to identify issues and find legal solutions to their client’s problems within the framework of English common law (case law), statute, and regulations. Often, the solicitor will project manage the matter from start to finish and liaise with many different people to effect the solution.

The amount you can earn as a solicitor depends on your practice area, sector, stage in your career, experience, size of your organisation, and location.

Skills for a successful career as a solicitor

A legal career demands flexibility, intellectual ability, commitment, and excellent communication skills. While a strong academic background is important, employers are also interested in your personal attributes and skills, like integrity, dedication, work ethic, and awareness.

These core skills are central to the practice of each and every solicitor. The context of such work, however, varies greatly across the vast array of practice areas within the profession, depending on the size and type of firm. In a commercial context, the solicitor also needs to consider and apply the law while factoring in the commercial considerations of the client, so that the solution is not just legal, but commercially practical.

All solicitors follow the same professional principles and code of conduct, although solicitor training prior to qualification may differ from one person to another.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is the regulator of solicitors and law firms in England and Wales. The SRA is the regulatory body and the Law Society is the independent professional body for solicitors. The Law Society represents and supports solicitors, promotes the highest professional standards and the rule of law, as well as provides advanced solicitor training.

The solicitor training programme – SQE assessments

To become an English solicitor, you must pass a centralised series of assessments – the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (“SQE”).

The SRA will introduce the SQE exams in 2021 to ensure that all aspiring solicitors meet the same high standard of competence before they can apply for admission as an English solicitor, regardless of the path they have taken to before sitting the SQE and the solicitor training programme they have selected.

Kaplan, a global education and assessment organisation, has been appointed by the SRA to design, develop and deliver the SQE.

The SQE requires all intending solicitors to demonstrate a high level of legal knowledge and practical skills, as well as intellectual and analytical ability. UK candidates must also complete a pre-qualification qualifying work experience requirement of a minimum of two years (foreign lawyers are exempt). This qualifying work experience requirement is more flexible than the training contract requirement as to where, when, and how candidates secure that work experience.

The SQE facilitates the development of more flexible pathways to qualification than before, for those who are able to meet the robust standards of the assessment, without diluting the standard of legal and practical skills expected of members of one of the world’s most prestigious professions.

The SQE assessments comprise two stages: SQE1 (which tests candidates’ ability to use their legal knowledge to address clients’ problems or within legal transactions) and SQE2 (which tests the legal skills of client interviewing, advocacy, case and matter analysis, legal writing, drafting, and legal research).

One of the major changes of the SQE is that candidates do not need to take anymore the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at an additional cost of up to £15,000, which is the mandatory vocational stage of the domestic route for solicitor training under the traditional route, and a significant financial obstacle for many. Candidates without a qualifying law degree do not need to complete the Graduate Diploma in law (GDL) either.

As a result, new pathways to solicitor training have been introduced alongside the traditional routes, opening up the legal profession to applicants from varied backgrounds and qualifications.

The more common ways to qualify as solicitors following the introduction of the SQE are people with various backgrounds. To learn more, select the option below which most accurately describes your background group:

Law Graduate or Student
The traditional route with an LLB degree or GDL

Apprentice
Qualify without undertaking a university degree

Foreign Qualified Lawyer
Enhance your professional profile and marketability

Non-Law Graduate
Take the exam and qualify like any other law graduate

Paralegal
Gain an official qualification, advance your career

Chartered Legal Executive
‘Upgrade’ your lawyering skills and qualifications

 
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