The Legal Services Board has approved the new solicitor ‘super-exam’, ushering in major changes to legal education.

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam – a centralised assessment involving two years of mandatory work experience – will be introduced in autumn 2021, nearly a decade after the Solicitors Regulation Authority started work on the new design.

Explaining its decision today, the LSB said the exam should have a positive impact on the regulatory objectives set out in the Legal Services Act 2007, providing the Solicitors Regulation Authority achieves its aims. 

While the LSB’s decision identifies issues that will need to be managed by the SRA, it did not consider them to outweigh the likely benefits of the changes.

The super-regulator added that it had received assurances from the SRA on some areas of initial concern. For example, the regulator has now built in additional safeguards around qualifying work experience to help to prevent poor treatment of candidates.

Dr Helen Phillips, chair of the LSB, said: ‘We have approved the SRA’s application because there are no grounds for refusal, and more importantly, if the regulator follows through on its commitments, it will benefit people who need legal services. The SQE should ensure consistency of standards and improve diversity access to the sector. This should help increase consumers’ trust and confidence, create a profession that better reflects society, and widen access to justice.’

However, she added that the SQE is ‘not without risk’ and said the LSB will monitor progress closely.

While non-law graduates currently complete a law conversion course followed by the Legal Practice Course in order to qualify as solicitors, they will now take the SQE, which is divided into two parts. Law graduates will also complete the assessment. 

SQE1 will test functioning knowledge of the law and will comprise two multiple-choice tests, each containing 180 questions. SQE2 will test legal research, legal writing, legal drafting, case and matter analysis, advocacy, client interviewing and attendance note/legal analysis through 15-18 tasks in five set areas of practice.