Advice on qualifying as a solicitor or barrister (SQE + BTC)

Many students studying an undergraduate law degree will be thinking about a career as a solicitor or barrister following graduation (although a law degree is also a great foundation for many other careers).

The routes to professional qualification as a solicitor or barrister, following graduation, are changing. Here we provide a summary of the old and new regimes which will help you to understand the proposed changes.

Current routes to professional qualification

At present, students who wish to become solicitors or barristers must first obtain a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD), which requires study of the Foundations of Legal Knowledge (Tort, Contract, Public, EU, Criminal, Land and Equity Law).

Alternatively, if a student has taken a non-law degree at university, they can then complete the Common Professional Examination (CPE) which is usually a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL); a year-long study of the foundational subjects.

After this academic stage, students wishing to become solicitors must complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by a two year training contract - usually with a law firm – and completion of the Professional Skills Course (PSC).

Until July 2020, students who have completed the academic stage and wish to become practising barristers must complete the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) followed by a pupillage with a set of chambers and completion of training/assessments to meet the requirements of the Professional Statement.  

Both the LPC and the BPTC are year-long, post-graduate vocational courses which focus on practice related subjects, such as civil and criminal procedure and professional ethics.

Once the academic, vocational and work experience stages have been completed, both solicitors and barristers must pass a character and suitability assessment set by the relevant regulatory authority (the Solicitors Regulation Authority for solicitors or the Bar Standards Board for barristers) in order to obtain a practising certificate. 

The new routes to professional qualification for barristers (from September 2020)

From September 2020, a variety of Bar training courses will replace the BPTC.

Students will still be required to complete academic and vocational stages followed by a pupillage but will have a choice of pathways and learning styles.

The academic stage will continue to be a qualifying law degree (or a non-law degree followed by the GDL).

For the vocational stage, students must complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Bar Practice which may be undertaken in either one or two parts.

Students who choose to complete the Diploma in two parts will not need to pay for Part 2 until they have successfully passed Part 1.

On completion of the Diploma, the final stage will be a pupillage.

The new route to professional qualification for solicitors (from September 2021)

Subject to final approval by the Legal Services Board, a new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will be introduced from September 2021.

Students who start, complete or accept an offer for a qualifying law degree before September 2021 will be able to choose whether to qualify using the old LPC route or the new SQE route. For more information see the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) decision tree.

Completing the LPC will remain a valid qualification route until 2032 BUT it is anticipated that most courses will be phased out from January 2022 as providers focus on preparing students for the SQE. 

To qualify as a solicitor through the SQE route, a student will need to have an undergraduate degree before taking Parts 1 and 2 of the SQE and completing two years of qualifying legal experience (which can be undertaken at any time).

As with the LPC, students taking the SQE route must also meet the Solicitors Regulatory Authority’s character and suitability test before they can be admitted as a solicitor.

SQE1 will test a student’s knowledge and application of core legal subjects; alongside legal research and writing skills. Students who have obtained a law degree will be at an advantage when they move on to the vocational stage.

SQE2 will test practical legal skills (including interviewing, advocacy, research, analysis and drafting).

Both SQE1 and SQE2 will be set by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority which means that the exams will be the same whichever preparation course a student chooses to take.

The School of Law at the University of Surrey has a partnership with the University of Law to offer support to students for a smooth transition from their undergraduate studies to preparation for the SQE. The University of Law will ensure that University of Surrey students, who are planning to enter the solicitors’ profession, will have a guaranteed place at the University of Law if entry requirements are met.

What does this mean for you as a Law Student?

If you are currently a law student, you will be able to qualify as a solicitor by following either the LPC or (from September 2021) the SQE method if you complete the QLD.

If you are currently a law student and complete the QLD, from September 2020 you will be able to qualify as a barrister by choosing to take your Bar training course in either one or two parts.

If you are a prospective law student, once you have completed your QLD, SQE plus qualifying legal experience (potentially as part of a Professional Training Year) is likely to become the more common route to qualification as a solicitor and the Bar training course plus pupillage will be the most common route to qualification as a barrister.  

For further information about both legal and non-legal career opportunities, keep an eye on our dedicated Surrey Law Careers twitter feed. If you have any questions, please get in touch with your personal tutor or a member of the School of Law’s Employability Team, who will be very happy to help.

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