As in Scotland, the legal profession in England and Wales has two branches – solicitors and barristers (advocates in Scotland).
Until 2021 the routes to qualification for each branch were parallel, and this remains the case in Scotland. In England and Wales, however, a new route to qualifying as a solicitor was established by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The previous route to qualification
There were traditionally three stages to becoming a fully qualified solicitor or barrister: an academic stage, a vocational stage, and in-work training.
Students who are already studying on a qualifying law degree programme or the Legal Practice Course on or before 31 August 2021 will continue to follow this route to qualification. However, the SQE opened for registration from September 2021 and existing students who have not completed their programme may choose to follow either this route or the new SQE route (described immediately below).
This consisted of a Qualifying Law Degree, accredited by the professional bodies, and offered in most English law schools and some Scottish law schools.
In which applicants wishing to become solicitors would undertake the Legal Practice Course (the LPC); applicants wishing to become barristers would undertake the Bar Professional Training Course (the BPTC).
Constituted by a Training Contract for potential solicitors, and a “pupillage” for potential barristers.
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (the SQE)
The SQE is designed to test both legal knowledge and practice skills – in other words issues previously covered by the Qualifying Law Degree and the Legal Practice Course.
SQE 1 will test (via multiple-choice questions) substantive legal knowledge in the following:
- business law and practice
- dispute resolution
- legal system of England and Wales
- constitutional and administrative law
- EU law
- legal services
- property practice
- wills and the Administration of estates
- solicitors accounts
- land Law
- criminal law and practice
SQE 2 will test (via skills activities) the following:
- client interview and attendance note/legal analysis
- case and matter analysis
- legal research
- legal writing
- legal drafting
Qualifying as a Barrister
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has not followed the SRA and still expects applicants to hold a law degree (minimum 2:2) including passes in Criminal Law, Equity and Trusts, Property and Land Law, Contract, Tort, EU Law and Public Law.
However, the Bar Practice Training Course has been replaced with a variety of professional skills courses.
A major motivating consideration for introducing the new route to qualification was to lower the costs of entering the legal profession, in the hope that it would become more open to a wider range of applicants. The costs of the LPC varied across institutions from around £10,000 to £17,000. Presently the fees for sitting the SQE 1 and 2 are around £4,000 (though that may vary as time passes).
Additional costs may be incurred in undertaking SQE preparation courses, offered by many universities and some private providers, all with varying cost structures. The SRA’s website has a list of SQE training providers. These programmes may be taken while you are working.
What is the added value in doing a Law Degree if the intention is to practice law in England or Wales?
A law degree remains a requirement for practice in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and to become a Barrister in any jurisdiction in the UK, including England and Wales; it remains a recognised qualification in many countries around the world.
Even for students who intend to practice as a solicitor in England and Wales, an LLB is likely to prove invaluable for learning both the law (preparation for SQE 1) and legal skills (preparation for SQE 2).
It's also a highly regarded degree in most graduate job markets beyond law due to the transferable skills that it involves.
Can I still study English Law at Strathclyde?
Though we no longer offer any “qualifying law degree” in English Law (because no such concept now exists) we will continue to offer the modules in English law that have run for several years, including:
- English Contract Law
- Equity & Trusts
- English Land Law
- English Criminal Law & Evidence
These may be taken as options within most of our LLB programmes, and will be valuable not only for those seeking to qualify in England and Wales via the SQE route, but also for those who are employed in Scotland in firms that deal with English clients.
The English Bar Requirements for EU Law and Public Law are compulsory elements of the LLB at Strathclyde in any case.