Careers at Legal Cheek sits down with BPP Law School’s Student Outreach and Recruitment Manager, Jonny Hurst, to discuss exams, course funding and QWE, ahead of his appearance at Thursday’s virtual event
Flexibility is one of the main selling points of the Lawyers Qualifying Examination (SQE) and will be a boon to many people who would otherwise find it difficult to qualify as a lawyer, whether for financial reasons, family responsibilities or another reason.
The purpose of SQE is to break down barriers, but are there still tripwires and if so, what are they?
Perhaps the biggest concern of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is closing the achievement gap between white, Asian and black applicants. The SRA appointed the University of Exeter to better understand what is causing this gap and the steps needed to close it. Jonny Hurst, Student Outreach and Recruitment Manager at BPP University Faculty of Lawcommented: “This is long overdue research, but we need to be realistic about its immediate impact: any changes to improve the rules of the game following the recommendations will likely take some time.
Hurst continues: “While the achievement gap is not unique to the SQE or the legal profession and some aspects of the SQE make qualifying as a lawyer more accessible, there may be a number of unintended consequences of the new way that go against the EDI. [equity, diversity and inclusion] agenda.”
One of the concerns is that students misunderstand the true cost of the SQE course. On this, Hurst says, “We hear that the SQE is cheaper than the Legal Practice Course (LPC) – and in a sense that’s true whether you choose the faster and cheaper courses, or maybe no class at all. But most candidates need or are looking for a course that prepares them for practice at least on par with the LPC so they can stay competitive. He adds: “While a number of similar SQE courses are cheaper than their LPC equivalents, when you factor in the cost of the SQE assessments themselves, there’s very little to it.”
When you factor in the cost of retakes (which most should budget for given the national pass rate of 53% for the first set of SQE1 results), the like-for-like comparison makes the SQE route more expensive. From October 2022 the fee is £1,622 for SQE1 and £2,493 for SQE2. If you fail both SQE 1 or SQE2 tests, you will have to pay the full resit.
There are also other potential hidden costs. Hurst highlights an example that few could have predicted and which may have created additional expenses for some students. When people took the SQE1 in November 2021, which consists of two tests, many more people failed the second attempt than the first. This has resulted in a greater demand for students wishing to take the SQE1 2 test in the July 2022 session. As a result, there have been reports of students unable to take both tests at the same location in July 2022, which which could mean that some students would have to pay unexpected accommodation and/or travel costs.
Similarly, some students will need to pay for travel and accommodation the night before SQE2, as well as the £2,493 exam fee. Indeed, the SQE2 is currently taking place in only three cities, Manchester, Cardiff and London.
All prospective SQE students will need to find funding, which may affect their choice of course provider. A widely used source is the Student Loans Company Masters Loan, which is around £11,836 for courses starting on or after August 1, 2022. Hurst points out that this funding is only available to those studying at a degree-granting university. As a result, students may find that even though certain courses cost less, because they are not offered by universities, they are not eligible for funding. As such, ironically, this makes these cheaper courses less affordable.
BPP offers a range of scholarships, including scholarships to expand access. Students can also take out private loans, for example from Lendwise or large banks.
Hurst anticipates an increase in the number of apprentices graduating as a result of the SQE, which will help expand access. BPP already has a few graduate apprentices and will welcome others in September.
Questions about inclusiveness have been asked about the format of the exams themselves. For example, is the SQE1 multiple-choice format fair for all students? There is concern that some neurodiverse people may find the multiple-choice questions unfairly difficult or too abstract when that same person might be functioning at their potential with a different form of testing. The usual way to level the playing field and accommodate extenuating circumstances is to give students extra time, but Hurst points out that extra time doesn’t necessarily help all students who struggle with MCQs due to of cognitive impairment.
Qualifying work experience
One of Hurst’s concerns is with students opting for what he describes as a “QWE portfolio” – qualifying work experience with two to four employers, which he describes as “one of the best innovations in the SQE course”, because many more candidates will do so. can now qualify as lawyers. However, Hurst believes this is a ‘double edged sword’ as there will be a huge range of quality in terms of training that trainees in the QWE portfolio will receive. For example, some of those who rely on their previous and current work as paralegals may face barriers to progression, as not all companies will consider their training to be “adequate” for the NQ roles they seek to fill. provide.
However, he says he thinks students who pursue a well-structured QWE portfolio should be fine, like most (if not all) of those who get their QWE through intermediaries like Accutrainee, Flex Legal and Lawyers on Demand because there is professional supervision. throughout their training course. It’s the trainees in the QWE portfolio who accumulate their QWE more punctually than Hurst fears when qualifying. Will they all be able to progress into real newly qualified roles or will the work they do continue to look more like that of a paralegal, despite the qualifications? We’ll have to wait and see on that one.
Jonny Hurst, Head of Student Outreach and Recruitment at BPP University School of Law, will moderate a panel and answer questions on “How the SQE can help a wider range of students qualify as lawyers” , a virtual student event taking place this Thursday (June 16). You can apply for one of the last (and free) spots to attend the event now.
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