The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is to be introduced in autumn 2021, with the candidate fee likely to range between £3,000 - £4,500, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has announced.
The SRA had previously proposed a launch date of no earlier than autumn 2020. But it said education providers and law firms had indicated a strong preference for a September 2021 launch, allowing them more time to develop training and transition to the new system.
The regulator has also published the provisional fee range for the examinations. It said the total estimated cost for the two stages of assessment was between £3,000 - £4,500:
- SQE 1 will primarily test the application of legal knowledge. The fees range estimate is £1,100 - £1,650.
- SQE 2 will test practical legal skills, with a fee range of £1,900 - £2,850.
The costs are based on an estimated 35 hours of assessment, including written tests, computer-based assessments and simulations such as mock client interviews, the SRA said.
It added that these costs were indicative, as it continues its work with provider Kaplan to develop and test the assessments.
The SRA insisted that the SQE would offer more flexibility around training and work-based experience. “This should help establish a competitive legal education market and give candidates more genuine choices about the route they take, such as solicitor apprenticeships, or law degrees that incorporate SQE training.”
It added that the SQE structure also aimed to address the problem of the need to pay large up-front costs, up to £16,700 for a Legal Practice Course (LPC), with no guarantee of a training contract or becoming a solicitor.
The new SQE launch date means that people who have started a qualifying law degree or law conversion (CPE) before September 2021 will be able to decide to qualify under the old system up until 2032, or alternatively under the SQE. From September 2021 all other aspiring solicitors would need to qualify through the SQE.
Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: “We want everyone to be ready to make the most of the SQE. We have listened to law firms and universities, who have told us that 2021 gives them the right amount of time to prepare.
“Our priority is creating a rigorous, value for money assessment that drives consistent high standards. The SQE also offers a fresh opportunity to increase access to the profession. A competitive training market, offering real choices, will help the profession attract the best talent.”
Kaplan will be running pilots in 2019 to test the effectiveness of the assessment. The SRA and Kaplan will launch candidate recruitment for the pilot of SQE 1 in November.
The SRA has also launched Career in Law to help inform aspiring solicitors about the SQE changes. It has been developed through working closely with young people, including college and university students.