Getting Ahead: A Trainee’s View Of The SQE
At Acuity Law, we took some time out with trainee Sophie Azzopardi to find out her thoughts on qualifying through the SQE route.
Acuity Law (AL): Why did you decide to take the SQE route, Sophie?
Sophie Azzopardi (SA): My undergraduate degree was in PPE and, as such, I needed to obtain a qualifying law degree. At the time I graduated, the GDL was well-established and there was very little information on how firms would be welcoming the SQE pathway. I completed my GDL in 2022 and began applying for training contracts. It was clear that some firms still favoured recruiting LPC candidates and others were silent about the SQE. However, I could also see a change with other firms starting to accept the SQE.
Acuity stood out as a firm who were taking this one step further; encouraging it’s adoption and setting out a clear route to qualification under the SQE pathway.
When you compare £1600 for SQE1 to the £14k-£19k for the LPC, you can clearly see how the SQE proposes a more cost-friendly pathway to qualifying. As a result, the SQE will be a key factor to encouraging a more diverse legal industry.
I did my vacation scheme here at Acuity Law and was fortunate to be given a training contract. The firm was eager to discuss and arrange the SQE pathway from the get-go. I think this shows how ahead of the time it is as a firm. From a practical standpoint, it makes sense to accept the SQE as early as possible, for firms to get to terms with the layout and start to understand how it can best work in practice. When the time does come for the LPC to fully fade out, the firm will then have a solid framework and can evidence high passing rates. Firms who wait will, unfortunately, be left to play catch-up.
AL: What were your reasons for going down the SQE route?
SA: From a general standpoint, the most attractive quality of the SQE route is that it is more economically viable for an individual. If you don’t have sponsorship, and don’t sign up to a revision provider, the exams will be the only costs. When you compare £1600 for SQE1 to the £14k-£19k for the LPC, you can clearly see how the SQE proposes a more cost-friendly pathway to qualifying. As a result, the SQE will be a key factor to encouraging a more diverse legal industry.
A second selling point was that I’d be learning on the job. Essentially, I’d have the skills learnt in practice to apply in the exams. I have found this really helpful. There are some questions in the SQE papers which aren’t a question of theory, but a question of practice.
From a personal standpoint, the SQE meant I could start my training contract earlier. I didn’t have to take further time out to complete the LPC as I could more or less start my training contract straight away. As someone who was eager to start training at the earliest, this was a big selling point for me.
A second selling point was that I’d be learning on the job. Essentially, I’d have the skills learnt in practice to apply in the exams. I have found this really helpful. There are some questions in the SQE papers which aren’t a question of theory, but a question of practice. As I’ve picked up these points subconsciously, by completing my QWE, these questions have become much easier to answer. A prime example is stamp duty deadlines. In my property seat, I got used to these deadlines and can now apply this knowledge without having to look at any notes. The practice element of the SQE really plays into the academic element and this has been really helpful when going through the course content.
AL: Obviously you’re working with people who are doing the LPC as well. How do you feel it differs from your route? Or is it a seamless thing and you’re not really aware of who is doing the LPC and who is doing the SQE?
SA: The SQE is online learning, so it’s a lot more flexible in that way. For colleagues who are completing the LPC part-time, they have to take every Friday off to attend the seminars. Whereas for SQE candidates, you get to balance work and academic requirements in a more fluid manner. The firm does also give us a day and a half off a month which we can take at a convenient time. This means that for days where we need to be in the office, we don’t have to worry about attending any seminars and during quieter spells, we can take the study days.
AL: Is there anything you wish you’d known before beginning the SQE or that you’d advise anybody else in that position?
SA: Undeniably, it’s a lot of content. I think Acuity has picked up on that, which has been great. As a firm, they have been extremely open to feedback and building a framework, which provides the best opportunity for learning, both in practice and academically. For example, following feedback, they will only be putting candidates on 40-week courses. I think this is really sensible – it means you can take a bit longer to go through an understand the content, rather than trying to cram the large volume of information in a short period of time.
The investment that firms like Acuity have put into SQE trainees goes beyond merely financial support; we have regular meetings, talks and information-sharing between us and the HR department to best structure the pathway… you feel like you are not alone when completing the course and exams.
On this point, I would encourage any firm providing the SQE route to be open to feedback and for candidates to be vocal about challenges they are facing with balancing their work. The SQE is industry-changing and it will take a lot of trial and error for firms to work out how best to roll-out this pathway. It feels great to be part of a cohort which is part of this change in process and to work at a firm which is motivated by the task of providing the best SQE training contract; for candidates and for the firm more broadly.
AL: How do you think the landscape for legal training will change?
SA: I think a lot of firms are working closely with providers to alter the SQE in a way which suits the individual firm. Firms all work in their unique ways, so it will be interesting to see how firms adopt the pathway in different ways.
I think the relationship between firms and trainees will also get a lot stronger, because they have to depend on one another more. The investment that firms like Acuity have put into SQE trainees goes beyond merely financial support; we have regular meetings, talks and information-sharing between us and the HR department to best structure the pathway. As a result of this, you feel like you are not alone when completing the course and exams. You appreciate the large investment which is going into your training and, as a result, only want to do better.
The scope of trainees will also change. We’ve previously noted how the SQE is more attractive from an economic and flexibility standpoint. However, the effects of this in practice will mean that career-changers will be more likely to pursue the pathway and individuals will not be as held back due to socio-economic factors. In my opinion, a cohort of trainees with a variety of different experiences and backgrounds will only heighten the work a firm can provide; offering new perspectives and a large market of potential clients and connections the firm can work alongside. At Acuity, people care – so many people have asked what the SQE is about and the firm has been really open to our point of view. From a personal standpoint, this has been a key change to how the academic and practice elements of training meet. The people you work with become more than just colleagues; they become a huge support system and, essentially, your own personal lecturers. Drawing on the experience and expertise of those around you, will only better the trainee you can be and the solicitor you will eventually grow into being.
To find out more about tomorrow’s Acuity Law SQE roundtable, hosted in association with The College of Legal Practice, please click here for more details.