Will the SQE bring more equality between Solicitors and Fellow Legal Executives?
When proposals were put forward in March 2016, and confirmed in May 2017, for a replacement for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) known as the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) to be introduced in 2020, it caused much speculation with future and aspiring lawyers, qualified lawyers in relation to the credibility of the qualifying Law Degree. What has not been considered yet, however, is whether the introduction of the SQE will bring equality into the profession and streamline the qualification route between solicitors and Fellow Legal Executives (FCILEx).
To qualify through the SQE you are required to have undertaken two years of ‘legal experience’, in which a sandwich year at university may be eligible; a degree and two assessment stages must be passed. These stages consist of functioning legal knowledge assessments and practical legal skills assessments. Furthermore, the SRA also have put forward that you may also be eligible for the SQE if you have extensive experience with no degree at all, ultimately making the legal industry more diverse.
The SQE proposal will mean that law graduates will undergo further law modules which, unfortunately, they will receive no exemption from. However, there are talks that there may be exemptions for graduate members of CILEx (those who have completed their level 6 Diploma in Law and Practice of Graduate Fast-Track Diploma in Law and Practice).
Just like the current SRA Regulations to admittance, there are requirements to have experience in more than one practice area. Lawcareers.net suggests that some specialist law firms or in-house legal departments may not be eligible as ‘legal experience’ in order to be admitted. SRA commented on this and stated that, along with sandwich years at university, secondments in other organisations may be applicable to fulfil the requirements.
The route to qualifying as an FCILEx takes a similar format to that of the SQE with regards to ‘legal experience’ known as ‘qualifying employment’ with accordance to CILEx Regulations. To correspond with CILEx Regulations, in order to be admitted as an FCILEx you will have needed to complete 3 years of qualifying employment in which one year must have been undertaken as a graduate member of CILEx (GCILEx).
In more depth, qualifying employment is somewhat similar to the SQE requirements. CILEx Regulations require 20 hours a week of work which is of a legal nature, this work does not include company secretarial work, secretarial/PA work or administration. To be considered for FCILEx, along with qualifying employment you must hold a GCILEx status which can be obtained on the completion of a level 6 CILEx diploma in law and practice or Graduate Fast-track Diploma in law (eligible for law graduates only, and does not require law graduates to undertake further law modules or the Legal Practice Course).
What differentiates the qualification route as an FCILEx to the newly proposed SQE is that the qualifying employment does not have to include experience in multiple practice areas, therefore secondments are not required and practice modules can be tailored purely for the area in which you prefer to qualify. However, you do have to apply to CILEx Regulations for an employment assessment which cost £70, to review whether the work carried out is eligible.
What must be noted, however, it is still possible to qualify as a solicitor after being admitted as FCILEx under current SRA Regulations on the completion of the LPC.
When looking more in depth to the SQE proposals it is clear to see that there is still some differentiation between the admittance routes and CILEx Regulations’ requirements. However, in relation to ‘legal experience’/’qualifying employment’, although SRA Regulations sill require a two year period, the type of work involved to be of a eligible nature is somewhat similar to that of CILEx; ultimately, helping streamline the both routes to be that of a similar standard. What does stand out in the SQE is the possibility of those with wholly legal experience and no degree to be able to qualify as a solicitor, but this is yet to be confirmed. In comparison, this may mean CILEx will be left as an almost untouchable qualification for many aspiring solicitors who do not hold a law degree upon graduation, as to graduates it is comparably more exclusive. However, CILEx, just like the SQE, will make the road to qualification more accessible for school leavers or those who desire a career change.