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What is the difference between the LPC and SQE?

Up until 1 September 2021, anyone wanting to qualify as a solicitor had to do either a UK qualifying law degree (QLD) or, if you had a non-law degree, a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) (also known as the Common Professional Examination (CPE)). You would then do the Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by a two year period of recognised training, usually referred to as a 'Training Contract'. 

This all changed from 1 September 2021, when the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) was launched. Now, anyone starting their journey to qualification as a solicitor has to follow the SQE route. 

How is the SQE different?

The SQE offers a flexible route to qualification, however, to reach the point where you can qualify as a solicitor you must:

  • have a degree in any subject or equivalent qualification or work experience
  • pass both stages of the SQE assessments - SQE1 (functioning legal knowledge) and SQE2 (practical legal skills)
  • have two years' qualifying work experience
  • pass the SRA character and suitability requirements

There is no prescribed path to follow and so it is completely up to you how and in what order you achieve the four requirements outlined above, although you have to pass SQE 1 before you can take SQE 2. It is worth noting, however, that law firms will have different recruitment requirements; some stipulate that you must have successfully passed both SQE 1 and SQE 2 before you start qualifying work experience with them, while others may require SQE 1. Or, you may be fortunate enough to secure a contract with a law firm which will cover the cost of your training for the SQE 1 and 2 assessments while you work for them. Guidance from the SRA suggests that the SQE 2 assessment is more straightforward for those candidates who have accumulated at least some practical experience.

Can I still do the LPC?

There are some people who are still eligible for the LPC - the SRA's transitional arrangements stipulate that you can qualify through the LPC if by 1 September 2021 you had completed, started, accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit for one of the following:

a GDL/CPE which started on or before 31 December 2021 (exceptions apply);
a Legal Practice Course (LPC);
a period of recognised training (Training Contract);


by 21 September 2021, you had completed, started or accepted an offer of a place or paid a non-refundable deposit for a qualifying law degree (QLD)/exempting law degree (ELD) that started on or before 31 December 2021.

If you are not covered by these transitional arrangements, you have qualify through the SQE.

How are the SQE courses different?

One of the big differences between the LPC route and the SQE route is the variety of courses now on offer for those seeking to prepare for the SQE assessments. Unlike the LPC route where QLDs, GDLs and LPCs were accredited by the SRA and offered by a number of approved universities, there are no specific SRA approved courses for the SQE and it is up to course providers how they prepare their students for the assessments.

This has resulted in an influx of various different styles of courses coming to the market, ranging from full-time diploma and master’s courses to shorter SQE assessment preparation courses. Some are aimed specifically at those who have already completed UK law degrees or a law conversion course, while others are designed for those who have never previously studied law or law in the UK.

Bear in mind that the SQE courses offering an academic qualification still require you to have a degree, although it does not have to be a law degree. There are some shorter SQE preparation courses which do not come with an academic qualification and do not require applicants to have a degree to enrol on the course. 

The SQE assessments are notoriously difficult to pass and, as you can have a maximum of three attempts to pass the assessments within a six-year period, you need to ensure that you are extremely well prepared.

You could decide that you prefer to learn through self-study and the use of online learning tools or you could opt for a course with more structured support. If you are applying for a course, it is really important to check the course structure, contents and eligibility requirements to ensure it is suitable for you based on your education background. The SQE 1 assessment is a multiple choice exam and so you might also want to identify courses that will enable you to practice this style of testing.

It is important to note that the booking and cost of sitting the SQE assessments is entirely separate to any course fees you incur.

Work experience

The other big difference between the LPC route and the SQE route is how work experience is gained. Under the LPC route, this took the form of a Training Contract which entailed two years in a firm working in various 'seats' or departments gaining experience under appropriate supervision.  

Under the SQE route, although aspiring solicitors still need to complete two years of work experience before qualifying, you now have the option to complete your qualifying work experience (QWE) in one block of time or in stages, in up to four different organisations. It can be paid or unpaid work and could include:

on placement during a law degree;
working in a law clinic;
at a voluntary or charitable organisation such Citizen Advice or a law centre;
working as a paralegal;
on a training contract.

Your work experience can be obtained in England or Wales or overseas, but it must be signed off by a solicitor of England and Wales in the organisation, the COLP (compliance officer for legal practice) or another nominated solicitor of England and Wales outside the organisation but with direct knowledge of your work.

Want to know more?

Use the links to pages on the LawCAB website for more detailed information