How can law firms better support student lawyers?

Posted in Latest News on 27 Mar 2024

In the last year or so, we at Douglas Scott have followed the story of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), the newest way for solicitors to become qualified.

It hasn't been easy, from a troubled beginning plagued by IT and organisational issues to students struggling to find adequate funding and studying materials. And now, another storm looks to be brewing, as some law firms are implementing new policies for passing the challenging SQE1 exam the first time around.

Broken down into two sections, the SQE features two separate components – SQE1, which is focused on functional legal knowledge, while the SQE2 exam is more skills-based. The SQE1 exam has had a much lower pass rate than the SQE2 results, and reports have been that this is a very tough paper. A lot of the technical issues have plagued this portion of the qualification. However, despite repeated calls from the City of London Law Society to show patience and understanding with regards to the SQE, two major London law firms are now taking a firmer stance on people who don’t pass the exam the first time around. One, a 'Silver Circle' firm has a ‘no resit’ policy (although it is unclear how this is being enforced), while another 'Magic Circle' firm rescinded four training contracts recently for trainees who failed to pass the SQE the first time. This harsher line has resulted in a few trainees taking to social media to vent their frustrations with the SQE, and the CLLS’ training committee chair once again reiterated calls for firms to be more understanding of those sitting the exams.

While we don’t have the results from the latest round of SQE results (a report on these will be published in mid-April), firms are clearly starting to grow concerned about results. And it’s no surprise: firms must pay to submit trainees to the exams, and these costs can reach up to about £20,000. And this is just the exam on its own: there are also, of course, training costs, preparation courses, and paying trainees while they sit the exams. So, it can quickly become costly for firms to take on trainees, and if they then must resit each exam multiple times, they must pay out for that as well. With firms trying to find ways to economise in this still quite challenging market, it’s no wonder that some firms are trying to stop haemorrhage the costs they spend on their trainees. It does, of course, have a cost on those taking the exams, as we’ve seen with the number of legal news sites picking up and running with this story.

While most firms remain committed to supporting trainees taking the SQE, even if they have to sit the exam multiple times, some are less keen to support it. The strain is putting a toll on those sitting the exams, and some firms are deciding to take a line on costs that they are seeing as unsustainable. We’ll continue to follow this story as more results come and we see what more firms choose to do in the wake of this news.

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