Whether you are a current university student, a graduate who has completed their degree already, or someone who is considering a career in the legal industry, then you might be contemplating what you need to do next. With the implementation of the new SQE qualification, it is completely natural to feel torn or confused about whether the LPC or SQE route is best suited to you.
This blog will provide you with some key information that will help you in your decision-making process.
So, first things first, what is the LPC and SQE?
The LPC (Legal Practice Course) is the course that aspiring solicitors must complete before they can obtain a training contract with a law firm (A training contract is a two-year period of practical training that law graduates must complete with a law firm before they can qualify). The LPC has been around for 30 years. It is a year-long course (if studied full-time), or it can be extended over two years (as a part-time course).
The SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination) is the new centralised way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. It is an assessment (split into two examinations) for all aspiring solicitors. It is designed to assure consistency and the same high standards for all qualifying solicitors. It was introduced in September 2021 and will eventually replace the LPC route to practice.
Now, I know you are probably thinking “okay, that information is great, but which one works for me?”. Well, we are currently in the transition phase from the LPC to the SQE, so, for many of you, there is the option to go down either route. However, this is not the case for everyone. Your eligibility for each route depends on where you are in your ‘legal journey’ so far, so hopefully the below clears this up for you!
Who can choose between the LPC vs SQE route:
2nd or 3rd/final year LLB students
Law Conversion Graduates (PGDL)
Who can only go down the SQE route:
1st year LLB students
Most LLM students who do not also have an LLB
In layman’s terms, those of you who haven’t started your ‘law journey’ before 2022 are, generally, not eligible for the LPC. If you are beginning your legal journey from 2022/2023 onwards, you will likely only be eligible for the SQE.
However, for those of you who are eligible for both, it is important to consider the pros and cons of each route, and then weigh these up in relation to your personal situation. It is important to remember that everyone’s circumstances are different, so these factors will be weighted differently for everyone. Before making any decisions, it is important to seek advice where possible (i.e., a career’s advisor or another qualified professional). Here at Gerrard White, we are extremely experienced at providing candidates with meaningful and helpful career advice, so please get in touch today if you would like any help or support from us!
Cost & Funding
Having been a student at university myself, I appreciate that the financial elements come into play a lot! Many of us have loans and debts to think about, so thinking about the next step (and the incurring costs) is a huge consideration point for many aspiring solicitors.
There is no denying that the SQE route is cheaper overall, however, it is important to think about the bigger picture.
The SQE (as it says in the name), is an examination on its own, which you cannot get Government funding for (unless incorporated with a Master’s degree). You will therefore need to raise funds through some other means.
As it stands at the moment, the SQE 1 costs £1,622 and the SQE 2 costs £2,493 (a total of £4,115). Both assessments must be paid for in full at the time of booking, and the SRA do not offer payment plans.
A big thing to think about, is that if you fail any part of the SQE, you will need to pay to re-sit it again. So, whilst it is cheaper at the outset, it might cost you more than you initially expect, should the worst happen and your exams don’t go to plan!
The LPC is more expensive, but it is often incorporated with a Master’s degree.
Compared to the SQE, this means that you can often apply for Government loans/funding to support you with this. Therefore, you don’t have any immediate costs to pay upfront, but will have additional student loans to re-pay once you are in full-time employment.
The cost of the LPC varies depending on the provider you choose, but the cost will generally be between £13,000 - £15,000, unless you do an accelerated course, which can cost up to £20,000.
Because the LPC is incorporated within the Master’s degree, the cost of a re-sit will be much cheaper. Therefore, there are less upfront costs, should things not quite go to plan!
Types of assessments:
It is also important to consider how you work best, as the LPC and SQE are assessed quite differently. Some of you may perform better across a variety of assessments, whereas others might be more methodical and prefer a more ‘standardised’ measure.
The LPC has more of a variety of assessments, including coursework, exams, and skills. These exams are generally open book.
The SQE by contrast has less variety. The SQE 1 exam consists of 360 multiple choice questions (spread over two papers), with the questions randomly ordered between different areas of law. This requires mental agility in order to understand what is being assessed in each question. This exam is also closed book. The SQE 2 consists of 16 skill-based exams (12 are written and 4 are oral). You will then achieve a single, aggregate mark over the 16 separate assessments.
The SQE assessment has been compared to the standard of a newly qualified solicitor, whereas the LPC has been compared to the standard of a trainee solicitor. Therefore, the SQE may be regarded slightly higher by prospective firms, but it will not be an easy process!
Law firms’ preferences:
Working in legal recruitment, my general consensus would be that law firms are very receptive of both routes of qualification! It is still early in the transition phase, so most firms are happy to support candidates through their preferred method.
But with regards to the market overall, the ‘leading’ law firms appear to be shifting and favouring the SQE route, as they are trying to standardise their new cohorts. So, if you are someone who is aiming for the bright lights of London or a big city, then it might be worth thinking about the SQE route!
However, these ‘leading’ firms are still offering training contracts, so don’t be discouraged if you have already completed your LPC and are aiming for these types of firms. If they like the look of you, they will still be interested! – Just be prepared that they may ask you to complete SQE 2 in order to keep the process as standardised as possible.
Training contract vs qualifying work experience:
This is one of the main differences between the LPC/Training contract route and the SQE/Qualifying Work Experience route. This will be very dependent on your personal situation and what works best for you! You may be someone who prefers to ‘lay down their roots’ with one firm OR, you may be someone who likes the idea of gaining experience in a variety of legal practices. Either way, it is important to consider the differences below:
The traditional Training Contract comprises 2 years’ of practical work experience, gained at one firm. During a Training Contract, you will often progress through at lease three areas of work at the firm (but this can be more if the firm is larger). Trainees must complete a contentious and non-contentious seat. Contentious areas involve a dispute between parties, whereas non-contentious doesn’t involve conflict or the court.
With the SQE route, you will do 2 years of ‘Qualifying Work Experience’. Unlike a Training Contract, this experience can be completed with up to 4 different providers (e.g., law firms & legal clinics) and have more flexibility on the time that is spent in each position.
For example, you could spend 6 months at a time in 4 different places, or you could spend 12 months in two different places, or you could stay at one provider for the full 24 months.
The work experience doesn’t have to be continuous either. For example, you could work as a paralegal for a year after completing your LLB degree (perhaps earning to save toward your next stage of studies), and then complete another year of work experience after you have completed the SQE.
There is a common misconception that the SQE is a quicker route to qualification compared to the LPC, but this is untrue. In fact, there isn’t much difference in terms of time frames (overall), as both routes require a number of exams as well as two years of practical work experience.
It is also important to note that if you fail one of the SQE exams (which we all hope won’t happen!), that there are only two re-sit points per academic year. Given that this is likely going to be a long-term career, it’s best not to rush decisions or try to ‘cut corners’ in order to ‘qualify quicker’.
So, these are the main factors that I would recommend considering when choosing between the LPC and the SQE. It is a big decision and not one that should be taken lightly. However, everyone is different, and it is important to think about what will work best for YOU!
Really think about your goals and where you want your career to go. Think about the type of firm that you want to work for (i.e., would you like a smaller, regional/high street firm, or do you see yourself working for a large city/international firm?); this will help you tailor your education and work experience towards this goal!
And last but not least, keep working towards your dream! Remember that all roads lead to Rome, so it doesn’t matter which path you take to get there, as long as you reach your end destination!
Talk to us about the your next step into your legal career: 01892 553355 | email@example.com
Source: Legal Cheek careers (created with BPP University)