International firm Reed Smith is to replace training contracts with a ‘Solicitors Qualifying Exam training path’, as the City responds to the biggest shake-up in legal education in almost two decades.

The new programme will be introduced in 2022 and will allow graduates to start earning before they begin their two years of qualifying work experience.

Over a 12-month period, future trainees will take an online course on the foundations of law; complete an online SQE 1 preparation course; develop advanced legal knowledge through a mixture of supervised study and office work; take an online SQE 2 preparation course; and work two days a week in a new business services area or on client placement while completing a ‘master’s level’ project. 

Non-law graduates must also take a law conversion course.

Graduates will be paid for the part-time work they undertake, and Reed Smith will continue to sponsor students through their legal training. The firm is partnering with Barbri and the College of Legal Practice to provide the training path.

Brigid North, Reed Smith’s training principal, said: ‘With the new path, our future trainees will begin their two years' qualifying work experience with a strong understanding of the firm, our culture and our values, and they will have acquired some experience of working in professional services.’

She added that new route will ‘enable our trainees to earn as they learn, which ensures we can attract a wider pool of talent to the firm’.

So far, only two City firms have revealed their SQE plans. Last month, DWF announced an apprenticeship programme, in which graduates will initially study full time in order to take the first SQE assessment, before starting two years of qualifying work experience.

The SQE was officially signed off by the Legal Services Board last month.