For two days in January this year I sat down in a windowless room in Bournemouth to do the hardest exams I have ever had to do. The exams were FLK (“Functioning Legal Knowledge”) 1 & 2,which comprise SQE1, the first step in the new route to qualification for solicitors in England and Wales.
The exams are split into four 2.5-hour long exams over two days and cover 18 different areas of law and practice, ethics and professional conduct are also examined across every area of law. The questions are best possible answer multiple choice questions which means that more than one answer might technically be correct, but you have the select the most comprehensive and legally sound option.
The SQE (“Solicitors Qualifying Examination”) is the new centralised assessment for anyone who wants to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. The first SQE examination took place in November 2021 and the new qualification will run alongside the traditional LPC route until 2032 (although the LPC course will no longer be available after 2026).
The SQE has been introduced as a more accessible path into law with the aim of introducing more diversity to the profession, both ethnically, socially, and fiscally.
I have always known that I wanted to study law, it was the only thing I brought to the table when discussing careers at school and I later studied A-Level Law. I achieved the requisite grades to start a law degree but part way through the course, life got in the way, and I made the difficult decision to leave university.
Straight away I sought out a temping job with a law firm in West Dorset which led to a permanent position and my introduction to law in practice – I loved it. A few years later and a change of jobs to a firm in Poole led me to start studying for the CILEx qualification and I became a Graduate Member in July 2021.
At that time, I suddenly found myself with a choice to make, either move forwards to become a Chartered Legal Executive or to take advantage of the new route to qualification as a solicitor. For me, the SQE was the best fit.
So, what was the outcome of those 10 hours sat in front of a computer screen? I am pleased to say I passed, as did 51% of the other candidates sitting SQE1 in the same session.
The next step of my journey is SQE2 – 16 assessments over 5 days testing various legal skills such as advocacy, interviewing, drafting and analysis, which I hope to tackle in October this year.
In addition to the formal assessments above, individuals also need to have a two-year period of qualifying work experience, which can be undertaken at up to four different organisations and they must also meet the SRA requirements for character and suitability.
The SQE qualification is in the early stages and there will no doubt be tweaks and changes along the way. There are also significant question marks over whether it will achieve what it set out to do as the current data suggests that a disproportionate amount of BAME candidates are not achieving a pass at SQE1. Personally however, I am glad that the new route is available, and I can now more easily reach my ultimate goal of becoming a solicitor in England and Wales.