For those of who you are currently coming to the end of your LLB Undergraduate degree or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), you will have looked into your career choices in depth. The legal practice course, commonly known as the LPC, is taught in a variety of institutions across the UK as the final step for aspiring solicitors in their educational life before undertaking a training contract and qualifying as a solicitor. Despite critique over the last 12 months, there are plans to scrap the LPC and introduce a new 'Super-Exam' for solicitors, set to take over in the next two years.
Those with an LLB who wish to become a solicitor will be able to move straight onto the LPC. However, those with a non-law degree will need to obtain a GDL first. The purpose of the LPC is to teach each student the life skills required to qualify as a solicitor and succeed in their career. Essentially, the teachings create a link between the theoretical skills gained during the LLB degree or GDL and the practical skills expected of a solicitor. The course is available to study both full-time and part-time; the full-time course runs for one year, ideal for those who have obtained a training contract prior to the course or are freer to dedicate all their time to the academic study. The part-time course is better suited for those who work or are a parent/carer as the classes are spread out, either through the week or on weekends, ensuring plenty of time for other activities. If you have secured a training contract prior to beginning the course, then your Law firm may agree to fund your course. However, if not, you will be pocketing just under £12,000 in fees for your course. Structurally, the course is split into semesters where you will learn four modules each semester followed by assessments in December, February, March and June on your chosen modules.
With its many differences, the new ‘Super-Exam’ or, as it is officially known, the Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE), is a combination of the modules, elements and assessments of the GDL and LPC. The regulators first introduced the possibility of the exam publicly in December 2015, when the proposal was still at the red light. Chief Executive Officer of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Paul Philip said "We think that the best way to ensure that solicitors meet the standards we, their clients and the public expect is to put in place the same, rigorous assessment for aspiring solicitors. That will give real confidence to employers, the users of legal services and indeed the profession itself."
With further discussions showing great support for the SQE, the super-exam means that aspiring solicitors would need to pass the super-exam to qualify for a training contract. With the decision going back and forth and critique and support flooding in from different directions, the final stamp on the SQE has been delayed until spring 2017. Similarly to the LPC, the SQE will be split into two stages: the first stage will test a candidate’s ability to refer to their legal knowledge; the second stage will involve putting to practice their legal skills. Essentially, the thought process behind the SQE is to provide an equal opportunity for anyone and everyone who wishes to pursue a career in law. The assessment is organised to provide a fair chance to applicants as well as being cost and time effective. Whilst the final details of the exam are yet to be released, the SQE aims to follow the example of many international jurisdictions by providing platforms for success for applicants from different backgrounds.
So what is the difference between the two and why are the regulations authority adamant to introduce the SQE in the next year or two? Well, there are both negatives and positives to the LPC and the SQE. It is apparent to anyone enrolling on the LPC that you are likely to finish the course having thrown yourself into the deep end of debts. The regulations authority have expressed the concern of cost when it comes to qualifying as a solicitor. Introducing a new assessment method will ensure a fair opportunity to anyone who wants to qualify but may be limited due to their funding possibilities. With the university fees increasing and decreasing rapidly and the instability of the economy, the SQE is set to be significantly cheaper than the LPC. As well as being cost effective, the SQE is split into two key assessments as explained above; the theoretical skills and the legal practice skills of a solicitor. This will help to provide a fair and fast option for everyone. In comparison to the full-time and part-time LPC, the SQE is drastically quicker and therefore more efficient. Furthermore, the SQE provides an opportunity for the regulations authority to recognise potential solicitors in a different and fresh light. The flexibility of the new assessment process allows aspiring solicitors to bring themselves to the forefront of the competition. Lastly, the cut-off point is not limited to a law graduate for the SQE route. Director of Education and Training of the Solicitor's Regulations Authority has said “Many people recognised solicitors as being a predominantly graduate profession; however, we also recognise the contributions made by chartered legal executives and apprentices and don’t want to cut routes like that off,” said Brannan. Further information can be found on this, here.
Having discussed this, the LPC is a professional and established career route for solicitors. From its introduction in 1993, it has been known for its academic teaching, established institutions and successful tutors. Following a candidate’s success on the LPC, the opportunities in the legal world have no boundaries. Whilst the SQE may seem like the quicker route, the LPC provides an in-depth understanding of the working world as a solicitor. The structure of the course provides each and every candidate the opportunity to gain and insight into life as a solicitor, both in a theoretical and practical sense. The timeline set for the LPC is organised and well laid out, preparing individuals for life throughout their training contract and thereafter. The time frame for the course enables you to the research your career choice carefully thus providing you time to choose your area of practice and organise your career plan. When you begin to apply for your training contract, you will be spoilt for choice. From Commercial and Corporate Law to Crime, from Banking and Finance to Immigration and Property, you choose your firm based on your interests. The LPC is also a great opportunity to make friends and network with those who share your interests. Additionally, some institutions have an open-book exam policy. This allows you to prepare your answers and organise your work in a manner that makes it easy for you to pass with flying colours. Lastly, nothing quite beats the feeling of obtaining another in-depth qualification after all that hard work!
Overall, it is clear to see that there are both pros and cons to the new SQE exam. Wiping out the LPC assessment process enables a fair opportunity for those who come from different backgrounds of education, those who have grown a sudden interest in law and wish to change their career and even those who have always wanted to pursue a career in law but lack in funding. In my opinion, the SQE is the assessment that essentially 'moves with the times.' It provides new light, changes and opportunity for the education system in the legal world. Whilst I agree that the LPC is a long-standing and well established process, it is important to be open minded about change. The SQE is due to launch in September 2019.
With some exciting ideas, this venture has been well thought through and planned.