A mandatory requirement if you want to become a solicitor in England and Wales, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is split into two parts. Learn more about this assessment route, available preparation courses and how much qualifying costs

SQE at a glance

  • The SQE ensures that all new solicitors are assessed to the same standard.
  • It effectively replaces the GDL and LPC although transitional arrangements are in place until 2032 for those who started a law degree, GDL or LPC prior to September 2021.
  • SQE preparation courses are available to help get non-law graduates up to speed.
  • The SQE is split into two stages, testing legal knowledge and legal skills.
  • You need to complete two years of qualifying legal work experience, but this doesn’t have to follow the traditional training contract format.
  • The SQE costs £4,115.

What is the SQE?

The SQE is a centralised exam for solicitors that will eventually replace the GDL and the LPC, but don't be misled - it's not a course but a series of exams taken in two stages.

Under the new system trainee solicitors must:

  • hold a degree or equivalent qualification (such as a degree apprenticeship) in any subject
  • pass stages 1 and 2 of the SQE
  • complete two years qualifying work experience (QWE)
  • meet the SRA's character and suitability requirements.

While it's helpful in a practical sense for your degree level qualification to be in law it doesn't have to be. Graduates of any subject can take the SQE and to ensure non-law graduates are ready for the exams, law conversion courses and SQE preparation programmes are available.

Why change the route to qualifying as a solicitor?

Traditionally, to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales you had to:

The SQE was introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to ensure that new solicitors are assessed to the same standard.

This qualification route makes sure that all trainee solicitors, no matter which route they take (be that a law degree, non-law degree or law apprenticeship) sit the same qualifying exam, ensuring consistency and high standards across the board.

Learn more about how to become a lawyer.

What does the SQE involve?

The SQE is split into two stages - SQE1 and SQE2 - and is assessed on a pass/fail basis.

SQE1 should be taken after your degree. It tests functioning legal knowledge (FLK) in two exams, each made up of 180 multiple-choice questions. The first exam (FLK1) covers:

  • business law and practice
  • dispute resolution
  • contract
  • tort
  • legal system of England and Wales
  • constitutional and administrative law and EU law and legal services.

The second part of SQE1 (FLK2) covers:

  • property practice
  • wills and administration of estates
  • solicitors accounts
  • land law
  • trusts
  • criminal law and practice.

Take a look at these SRA SQE1 example questions.

Each of the two exams last five hours and six minutes and are taken on a computer, in one assessment window - meaning they must all be taken together. They are offered over the course of two days. SQE1 must be passed in its entirety before attempting SQE2, but this is the only restriction on timings.

SQE2 tests practical legal skills. The assessment is comprised of 16 practical exercises involving four oral skills assessments and 12 written. Ethics and professional conduct are assessed throughout. Taken over five days in total the oral element takes place over two half days and the written over three half days.

SQE2 assesses the following skills:

  • client interview and attendance note/legal analysis
  • advocacy
  • case matter analysis
  • legal research
  • legal writing
  • legal drafting.

The practice contexts are:

  • criminal litigation
  • dispute resolution
  • property practice
  • wills and intestacy, probate administration and practice
  • business organisations rules and procedures.

Practice with these SRA SQE2 sample questions.

When and where do SQE assessments take place?

Kaplan provides the assessments and there are multiple sittings of the exams per year. SQE1 sittings take place in January and July, and from 2024 SQE2 sittings will take place in January, April, July and October. To find out more about assessment dates see the SRA - When you can take the SQE.

You will take the SQE exams at your nearest Pearson test centre, of which there are numerous across England and Wales. SQE2 oral assessments can currently only be taken in Cardiff, Manchester or London, although it's expected that more locations will be made available in the future. 

The SRA encourages those who are ready to sit the exams to register early as places are filled on a first-come-first-served basis. Before you book your place on the assessments, you'll need to register as an SQE candidate.

You're only allowed three attempts at SQE1 and SQE2 and these must be taken within six years. Expect your results to arrive five to six weeks after sitting the exam for SQE1 and 14 to 18 weeks after sitting SQE2. To understand more about your results and potential resits see SRA - Results and resits.

What does qualifying look like for law and non-law graduates?

For law graduates, qualifying under the SQE system looks like this:

  • study for a three-year law degree (which includes SQE1 preparation)
  • take SQE stage 1
  • take SQE stage 2
  • complete a two-year period of qualifying legal work experience (QWE)
  • satisfy the SRA's suitability and character requirements
  • qualify as a solicitor.

For non-law graduates, it looks something like this:

  • study for a three-year non-law degree
  • take an SQE1 preparation course
  • sit the SQE stage 1
  • take SQE stage 2
  • complete a two-year period of QWE
  • satisfy the SRA's suitability and character requirements
  • qualify as a solicitor.

Following the SQE route, law graduates qualify as a solicitor in five to six years. It takes apprentices and non-law graduates five to seven years.

How does the SQE affect those already studying?

Because of a long transition period, if you started your law degree or LPC before September 2021 you'll have 11 years (until 2032) to qualify under the traditional route. However, if you want to switch to the new SQE route you can.

If you began studying law after September 2021 the LPC will have ceased as a qualification route. You'll have to take the SQE and won't have the option of qualifying via the old route.

It's the same story for non-law graduates. If you began the GDL before September 2021 you'll be able to choose to continue down the traditional route of progressing onto the LPC and a training contract until 2032.

For new entrants the GDL has ceased as a qualification route, you'll need to take an SQE1 preparation course instead.

Are SQE preparation courses available?

Yes, but they're not mandatory. You don't have to complete an SQE preparation course in order to take the SQE exams, but it's expected that many candidates (both law and non-law graduates) will opt to do so to ensure they're as prepared as possible for the assessments.

Some institutions have incorporated SQE1 preparation into their law degrees, while other providers offer stand-alone courses. The majority of SQE preparation courses can be studied either full or part time.

BPP run the following SQE preparation courses:

  • SQE Starter Course
  • SQE1 Preparation (self-study)
  • SQE1 Preparation
  • SQE2 Preparation
  • LLM SQE1&2
  • SQE1&2 Diploma
  • LLM Law Conversion with SQE1.

At The University of Law you can study a number of options including:

  • SQE Law Essentials
  • LLM Legal Practice (SQE1&2)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL)
  • MA Law (SQE1)
  • MA Law Conversion
  • SQE1 Preparation Course
  • SQE2 Preparation Course
  • SQE1 exam Preparation Course
  • SQE2 Exam Preparation Course.

QLTS School offer several course packages for SQE1 and SQE2, while BARBRI run three programmes, SQE Foundations, SQE1 Prep and SQE2 Prep.

Other preparation courses are offered by institutions such as Bath Spa University, City, University of London, Coventry University, De Montfort University and Nottingham Trent University. For more information on which institutions and organisations provide preparation courses, see the SRA's SQE training providers list.

Search SQE preparation courses.

Traditionally a training contract was the essential element to qualification, but it was also one of the main barriers, as placements are notoriously difficult to secure.

The SQE is designed to offer more flexibility when it comes to work experience, so aspiring solicitors don't necessarily need to do a training contract. However, many firms are sticking with the traditional training contract format.

Under the SQE route, you still need to do two years qualifying legal work experience, but this can be completed at a maximum of four organisations. The experience can be paid or unpaid and must provide you with the opportunity to develop the prescribed competencies for solicitors and be confirmed by an appropriate person, for example the Compliance Officer for Legal Practice.

Formal training contracts, working as a paralegal, completing a placement as part of a sandwich degree or volunteering in a student law clinic or with Citizens Advice all count towards the SQE's work experience requirements.

For example, you could complete a two-year training contract at one City law firm or, alternatively, carry out six months of pro bono work at your university law clinic and then work as a paralegal for 18 months.

Each placement will need to be signed off by a solicitor at the organisation, or a solicitor outside the organisation who has direct experience of the candidates work.

QWE can be taken at any point throughout the SQE, but the SRA expect that the majority of graduates will pass SQE1 before embarking on their main period of work experience.

How much will the SQE cost?

The total candidate fee for the SQE is £4,115.

  • SQE1 costs £1,622
  • SQE2 costs £2,493.

You pay the fees when you book your assessments.

These figures don't include any additional training costs such as SQE preparation courses. If institutions incorporate SQE preparation into their law degrees there will be no additional charge, however if you choose to take preparation courses separately bear in mind that costs could be considerably higher.

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