The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) marked a significant change in the route to becoming a solicitor in England and Wales. Under the SQE, candidates must successfully pass two exams, the SQE1 exam and the SQE2 exam, in order to become a qualified solicitor. This article will provide an in-depth guide to the second exam, SQE2.
What is the SQE2 Exam?
The first thing to remember is that candidates are only able to sit the SQE2 exam after successfully passing the SQE1. Once passed, candidates are then required to sit for the SQE2 exam. This exam assesses candidates on their practical legal skills. In order to pass the SQE2 exam, candidates must demonstrate their practical legal ability to apply fundamental legal principles to the level of a newly qualified solicitor.
The legal skills that are assessed by the SQE2 exam are the following:
- Legal research
- Case and matter analysis
- Client interviews and note taking
- Legal drafting
- Legal writing
Candidates are also assessed on their ability to negotiate. This is included in legal writing, case analysis or attendance note-taking.
The above legal skills will be assessed within the context of certain areas of the law (i.e. practice areas). These practice areas are:
- Criminal Litigation (including advising clients at the police station)
- Dispute Resolution
- Property Practice
- Wills and Intestacy, Probate Administration and Practice
- Business organisations, rules and procedures (including money laundering and financial services)
Questions that candidates will be required to answer may incorporate the underlying black letter law that is applicable to that practice area. This will mean that the knowledge gained when sitting for the SQE1 exam may prove useful in the context of the SQE2 exam. Candidates won’t be required to re-learn the entire SQE1 syllabus, this will be limited to the following areas of the law:
- Criminal Litigation: Criminal liability
- Dispute Resolution: Contract law and Tort Law
- Property Practice: Land Law
- Wills and Intestacy, Probate Administration and Practice: Trust Law
- Business organisations, rules and procedures: Contract Law
There are no specific questions on professional ethics in the SQE2 exam. Professional ethics are examined in a pervasive style. Candidates will be expected to spot any potential areas of difficulty or conflict and resolve them honestly and with integrity.
There will be some questions about taxation which can appear in context within any of the different practice areas.
The SQE2 exam will not examine candidates in the following areas of the law:
- Legal System of England and Wales
- Constitutional and Administrative Law and EU Law
- Legal Services (apart from money laundering and financial services)
- Solicitors’ Accounts
Candidates should note that topics on money laundering and financial services may be examined within the context of business organisations, rules and procedures.
SQE2 Exam Structure
The SQE2 exam is divided into two parts:
- SQE2 Oral
- SQE2 Written
The SQE2 oral exam assesses candidates on four oral legal skills over the course of two days. Candidates are assessed on two oral legal skills per day, with one oral skill assessed in the first half of the day and the second oral skill being assessed in the second half of the day.
The four oral skills that are assessed are the following:
- Advocacy (Dispute Resolution)
- Advocacy (Criminal Litigation)
- Interview and attendance note/legal analysis (Property Practice)
- Interview and attendance note/legal analysis (Wills and Intestacy, Probate Administration and Practice)
Candidates are able to choose the order in which their oral ability is assessed. This means that candidates can choose to be assessed entirely on their advocacy skills on day one and then on their interview and attendance note/legal analysis skills on day two. Some candidates may find this approach more efficient for preparation purposes.
The SQE2 written exam assesses candidates in the following areas:
- Case and matter analysis
- Legal research
- Legal writing
- Legal drafting
Candidates will be examined in the above areas every day for a total of three days (meaning that candidates will take a total of 12 written legal skills exams). On day one, two of the exercises will be in the context of Dispute Resolution and two will be in the context of Criminal Litigation. On day two, two of the exercises will be in the context of Property Practice and two will be in the context of Wills and Intestacy, Probate Administration and Practice. On day three, all the exercises will be in the context of business organisations, rules and procedures.
How is the SQE2 Exam marked?
Candidates are assessed on their interviewing legal skills in the context of a role-play scenario. In this scenario, the assessor will play the role of the client and will assess the candidate on their skills only. For all other legal skills, candidates will be assessed both on their skills and also on their application of the law.
Candidates are assessed based on the following assessment criteria:
- Superior performance: well above the competency requirements of the assessment
- Clearly satisfactory: clearly meets the competency requirements of the assessment
- Marginal pass: on balance, just meets the competency requirements of the assessment
- Marginal fail: on balance, just fails to meet the competency requirements of the assessment
- Clearly unsatisfactory: clearly does not meet the competency requirements of the assessment
- Poor performance: well below the competency requirements of the assessment
Once a grade is assigned to a candidate, it is then converted into a numerical number (e.g. A = 5 and F = 0). A candidate’s marks are then combined to arrive at one final mark.
Level of Legal Knowledge
As mentioned previously, the SQE2 exam assesses a candidate’s practical legal skills to the level of a day one newly qualified solicitor. Candidates must be able to demonstrate that they are able to apply fundamental legal principles in skills-based situations that candidates may find themselves in during the exam.
Candidates will not need to know legal knowledge that a day one newly qualified solicitor would have to look up (provided that the details relevant to that piece of legal knowledge has not been provided to the candidate). If these details were provided, then the candidate may be expected to know and address the relevant legal knowledge.
Application of the Law
As previously mentioned, a key element to the SQE2 exam is that it examines candidates on their ability to apply the law within the context of various skills-based scenarios. The following is a non-exhaustive list of what such application of the law may look like:
- Identifying relevant legal principles
- Applying legal principles to factual issues, so as to produce a solution which best addresses a client’s needs and reflects the client’s commercial or personal circumstances, including as part of a negotiation
- Interpreting, evaluating and applying the results of research
- Ensuring that advice is informed by appropriate legal analysis and identifies the consequences of different options
- Drafting documents which are legally effective
- Applying understanding, critical thinking and analysis to solve problems
- Assessing information to identify key issues and risks
- Recognising inconsistencies and gaps in information
- Evaluating the quality and reliability of information
- Using multiple sources of information to make effective judgments
- Reaching reasoned decisions supported by relevant evidence.
Some lawyers who have a professional qualification from another country may be able to apply for SQE exemptions under the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination). To gain an exemption, the qualification must match the content and assessment standard of the SQE based on competencies, practice rights and professional work experience.
The SRA has assessed some legal qualifications from other jurisdictions and have given some of these qualifications an ‘agreed exemption’ status. This means that foreign lawyers who have qualified through their jurisdiction’s qualification route (and who have not cross qualified from another jurisdiction) can apply for an agreed exemption instead of a new exemption.
The SRA has set out a list (that is regularly updated) of jurisdictions and qualifications that will permit one to apply for an agreed SQE2 exemption. Candidates with the correct qualification from any of the following countries may apply to the SRA for an agreed exemption:
- Belgium (Qualification: Advocaat)
- Brazil (Qualification: Advogado)
- Czech Republic (Qualification: Advokat)
- Denmark, Faroe Islands and Greenland (Qualification: Advokat)
- Germany (Qualification: Rechtsanwalt)
- Hong Kong (Qualification: Solicitor)
- Hungary (Qualification: Ugyved)
- Luxembourg (Qualification: Avocat à la Cour)
- Netherlands (Qualification: Advocaat)
- Romania (Qualification: Avocat)
- Scotland (Qualification: Solicitor)
- Sweden (Qualification: Advokat)
Any lawyer from a jurisdiction that is not on the SRA’s list and who does not possess the correct qualification will not be able to apply for an agreed exemption. However, they will be able to apply for a new exemption.
The fee for the SQE2 exam is £2,493. Applicants with exemptions may pay less; the exact fee depends on the type of exemption.
SQE2 Exam Dates
Candidates have multiple assessment windows within which they can sit for the SQE2 exam. Currently, the months of these assessment windows are: April, July and October. In any assessment window, the oral exams always precede the written assessment.
The locations for the SQE2 oral exam are London, Manchester and Cardiff. The SRA intend to expand the list of locations in the future. The SQE2 written assessments are held at Pearson VUE centres throughout the UK and also internationally. All assessment bookings work on a ‘first come first served’ basis.
SQE2 Preparation Courses
There is no compulsory training course to prepare for the SQE2 exam. Candidates are free to consider a range of providers. The key to success is identifying the best training provider to offer the preparation you need based on your previous academic pathway and any professional work experience.