Everything you need to know about the Solicitors Qualifying Examination

What should you look out for when choosing your route to qualify as a solicitor in the UK? Let’s explore how one colleague at FDM Solicitors has managed to excel within his SQE studies whilst holding a full-time senior role at the firm.

What should you look out for when choosing your route to qualify as a solicitor in the UK? Let’s explore how one colleague at FDM Solicitors has managed to excel within his SQE studies whilst holding a full-time senior role at the firm.

Litigation Team Manager Tim first joined FDM Solicitors as a Paralegal after graduating with a degree in English Literature in 2018. Originally unsure of what direction he wanted to take in his career, Tim first worked in publishing. After seeking out new challenges and delving into the role of a Paralegal, Tim began work and immediately realised that law was his passion. Since then, he has been working diligently to develop his understanding of multiple areas of the discipline.

Tim recently passed his SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination) 1 Exams. Using his experience as an example, we wanted to answer some key questions:

  1. Why should you choose the SQE?
  2. How did Tim prepare for the SQE 1 Exams alongside his full-time senior role?
  3. Why are the SQE 1 Exams significant?
  4. How does FDM Solicitors benefit from investing in its employees?
  5. What can you expect from the SQE 2 course and beyond?

Here’s everything you need to know when following the SQE route in order to qualify as a solicitor.

Why should you choose the SQE?

When first considering becoming qualified as a Solicitor, Tim was not entirely sure what the SQE 1 Exams offered. For many years, the route to qualify as a solicitor for someone without a law degree was a law conversion course, otherwise known as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which would allow a graduate to utilise and transfer existing skills to gain additional qualifications, as the first step to qualifying as a Solicitor.

After completing the GDL, candidates would then be expected to take on a traditional Legal Practice Course (LPC); which when combined, took at minimum 2 years to complete full time, or up to 4 years part time.

When faced with the prospect of studying for four years alongside his full-time job at FDM Solicitors, Tim was uncertain whether this was the best route for him. In addition, he would have needed a 2-year Training Contract before being admitted as a solicitor.

After asking for advice from friends and colleagues, he was recommended to take on an SQE Course. Introduced in September 2021, the SQE will eventually replace the GDL and LPC entirely, increasing the accessibility of the profession across the board.

Weighing up the costs involved and comparing a GDL /LPC course versus that of the SQE, Tim found that the latter could be less costly. The cost of the LPC can range between £13,000-£17,000 with an additional £8,400 on average for the GDL, although the cost of the exams are included while the SQE amounts to only £3,980 for the exams themselves. The SQE was designed to be more affordable, increasing the socio-economic diversity of the profession, as well as ensuring the route to qualification as a solicitor was standardised for the future. This does not account for the fees associated with SQE preparation courses however, which need to be reviewed independently.

With Tim’s previous experience in mind, the SQE considers all qualifying work experience, unlike the GDL which requires a rigid training contract structure. This flexibility allowed Tim to utilise all previous knowledge and work experience in conjunction with his course.

How did Tim prepare for the SQE 1 Exams alongside his full-time senior role?

Tim spent four months studying a Legal Basics course, re-affirming his existing knowledge of Black-Letter Law. This followed with a tight study schedule consisting of 20 hours each week, every morning, before a full working day at the firm. The practice gave Tim the freedom to choose his own hours, granting him the best chance of succeeding at his studies.

Tim’s rigorous academic schedule involved waking up every day at 5AM to revise and study. Tim would spend roughly 4 hours preparing and studying for the SQE 1 exams, before heading into work for 10AM. This gave him the freedom to relax and wind down in the evenings, avoiding burnout and prioritising the things important to him.

Tim has since clarified that the support and funding offered by FDM Solicitors allowed him to pursue his studies more easily, boosting his confidence ahead of the upcoming SQE Exams.

“Changing my hours really helped. I usually relax in the evenings, so using the most productive hours of my day to study and revise helped me feel more confident when going into the exams. The financial burden being gone also made it far more realistic for me to achieve.”

By covering the costs of the SQE Examination process, FDM Solicitors helped lessen the financial burden on Tim, giving him the confidence to succeed and even excel at the SQE 1 milestone.

Fellow solicitors and colleagues alike were also continually on hand to answer questions he had whilst studying, providing him with the knowledge and expertise he needed to do well in his studies.

It may be prudent therefore to make sure you can rely on the support offered by your legal firm and mentors to improve your chance of succeeding throughout the SQE Exams.

Why are the SQE 1 Exams significant?

Tim sat both the FLK1 and FLK2 paper, comprised of 180 “Best Answer-Only” questions each, a series of multiple-choice 5-option questions where only one of the answers can be awarded credit, despite many also being legally correct. A difficult prospect, meaning one’s legal knowledge and experience are tested interchangeably.

Tim was able to achieve a remarkable 75% on both exams, putting him in the Top 20% of all people in attendance, an achievement which both the firm and he are exceptionally proud of.

“Ultimately, it’s significant because I am at the halfway point. I still have the SQE 2 to sit this Summer but our Legal Director has certified my Qualifying Work Experience and so I have made great progress on the road to qualification” says Tim.

How does FDM Solicitors benefit from investing in its employees?

Securing funding from your law-firm is a fantastic way to eliminate the financial burden of accessing the SQE 1 & 2 examinations. Our firm is very generous in the support it offers in the academic and vocational development of employees. Many law firms won’t cover or sponsor their employees’ preparations and fees for the required SQE assessments.

“Without the support of the firm, it just wouldn’t have been possible for me” he explains.
By funding and supporting employees through new qualifications and training, FDM Solicitors is not only investing in the future of its talent but is also investing in its own future by cultivating and nurturing home-grown legal professionals. These individuals have previously helped propel and grow the firm into the multi-level legal practice it is today.

What can you expect from the SQE 2 course and beyond?

Tim has already begun to prepare for the SQE 2, due for Summer 2023. The exam comprises 16 practical exercises in total: four oral assessments and twelve written ones. The former examines a candidates interview skills and legal analysis, as well as advocacy. Whereas the written assessments cover case and matter analysis, writing and research skills, as well as drafting.

“I’m really pleased with what I’ve managed so far. I’ve increased my earning potential and qualifications with my hard work. That’s something to be proud of” Tim explains.

Currently, Tim‘s role involves researching the basis of arguments put to him by the opposition and creatively engaging with them in order to reach the best outcome for our clients; a role he has grown to love.

When he has successfully qualified as a solicitor, Tim is most enthusiastic about the prospect of representing clients at trial in the small claims court. Otherwise, he plans to use his enhanced legal skills to continue to do fantastic work within the litigation team and beyond.

The Conclusion: Summarising the SQE route to becoming a qualified Solicitor.

The clear conclusion is that the importance of valuable mentors when fostering legal development cannot be overstated. The expertise within the firm such as that of Associate Solicitor [Peter Joyce] and Legal Director [William O’Brien] has been paramount in facilitating the route to qualifying as a Solicitor. The support and experience available to you should be considered by anyone looking to proceed with the SQE process.

It’s also exceptionally important to consider the funding available. Some law firms offer funding and sponsorship, but the SQE can alternatively be funded by scholarships, third party loans, or part-time work.

Moreover, thought should be given to the level of commitment required for this type of qualification. Is your place of work willing to adjust your hours to facilitate your learning? Is the level of time commitment achievable for you?

All of these factors should be considered when deciding if the SQE will be right for you. If so, all of these steps will help you excel in the same way that Tim at FDM Solicitors has in the SQE Examinations so far.

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