LPCs vs SQEs: which is the best route to becoming a solicitor?

7 mins

Becoming a solicitor requires the completion of either a Legal Practice Course or a Solicitors Qualifying Examination. Both approaches have their own advantages and drawbacks, so you will need to consider which route will suit your circumstances before deciding the best route to qualification.

Qualifying as a solicitor is a lengthy and challenging process, requiring candidates to make a considerable commitment to obtaining the skills, knowledge and credentials they will need to succeed in the legal profession. As such, it is important to choose carefully when deciding which of the available routes to qualification you will take.

Historically, embarking on a Legal Practice Course (LPC) was the only pathway to qualification, requiring candidates to undertake intensive study in a university setting in order to qualify. However, the newer Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route has gained popularity in recent years, providing a more open and flexible approach to training.

Here, we will examine the key differences between the two qualification routes, and their pros and cons, to help you determine which method will better suit your needs.

LPCs vs SQEs: the basics

The LPC route has been established for many years, and is designed mainly for candidates with an existing background in legal education to get the qualifications they need to practise.

The main attributes of the LPC are as follows:

  • Only open to existing law graduates.

  • Begins with a year at university, studying the main legal practice course either on a full-time basis, or part-time alongside your work.

  • Once the main course is complete, you will need to complete a formalised two-year training contract.

  • Finally, you must complete a professional skills course and a character and suitability assessment.

  • Costs between around £11,000 and £18,000 in total to complete the LPC, depending on where you study.

In more recent years, SQEs have emerged as a viable alternative to LPCs, and have been gaining in popularity, with LPCs set to be phased out entirely in 2032, leaving the SQE as the sole qualification pathway.

SQEs work in the following ways:

  • Open to both legal and non-legal graduates, as long as you have an existing degree.

  • No requirement for a year-long training course - you will study for the SQE1 and SQE2 exams in your own time.

  • Once these are complete, you will need to accrue two years of qualifying experience of solicitor work - this does not need to be a formal training contract, but the work needs to be sufficiently complex to qualify. You can also do this alongside your exams.

  • Candidates must then pass the same character and suitability assessment as the LPC.

  • The total cost of taking both SQE exams is £4,115, increasing to £4,564 in October 2023.


The pros and cons of LPCs vs SQEs

From these basics, the key differences between LPCs and SQEs will be immediately clear. By comparing and contrasting these details, you will be able to determine which of the two will be your best pathway to becoming a solicitor.

Costs

The most immediate differentiator for many candidates is that the overall cost of the SQE route is much lower on average, with the £4,115 fee (increasing to £4,564 in October 2023) for the SQE exams, compared to the LPC course costs that can climb to as much as £18,000.

An additional factor to consider in favour of LPCs is the relatively low cost of resitting an exam, if necessary. LPC assessments can be resat up to three times, with an average fee of around £90 per resit. Conversely, SQEs cost between £800 and £2,500 to resit, meaning that costs can mount up quickly. In addition, some SQE students may decide to receive tutoring or embark on an SQE preparation course which will incur further costs.

It is important to remember that SQE students are able to earn whilst they are accruing their qualifying experience, meaning they will be able to avoid the significant university debts associated with LPCs. Those working as a paralegal in a permanent role can earn from £20,000 to £30,000+ a year, while locum paralegals will generally earn £20 to £25 per hour - equivalent to an annual salary of around £30,000 to £36,000.

Time commitment and flexibility

LPCs involve full-time university tutelage and the completion of a mandatory one-year course in addition to the two years of trainee work, meaning these courses take longer to complete. Even if you choose to do the one-year LPC on a part-time basis, you will need to complete your studies in the evenings alongside your work.

By contrast, SQEs do not require formalised lectures or university training, nor is there any requirement to undertake any specific legal education course prior to sitting the SQE exams. However, it is highly recommended for those who have not completed a law degree, or have prior legal knowledge, to obtain support from a formalised SQE preparation course of some nature. As such, should the candidate decide to self-study then the SQE approach can offer greater flexibility in terms of how and when you study, which many candidates find suits their lifestyle better.

Support structure

LPCs tends to be preferred by those who desire a more traditional learning environment. The university-based nature of the course means they will have continuous support and direct tutelage from assigned lecturers.

Should you choose not to utilise further tutelage for the SQE route, this would mean that students must be more independent, meaning their learning will be largely self-directed.

Accessibility

LPC students are required to gain work experience through a formal training contract, which can be hard to find and competitive to get into. These are much more commonly offered by larger private sector firms, but historically, there are less training contracts available than there are LPC graduates.

SQEs are much more flexible in this regard, as candidates can obtain qualifying experience in a broad variety of roles - potentially including the job they are already working in. There is scope for SQE students to gain their qualifying experience at any organisation; as long as the role meets the necessary requirements then management will simply need to sign this off.

Graduates seeking a career within the public sector will be of greater benefit embarking on the SQE route as the work experience is more accessible because they can choose to gain their experience working in organisations such as local authorities, charities, or university legal departments where training contracts (LPC route) are not as common.

Which approach is best for you?

Ultimately, the question of which qualifying route is best for you is likely to depend on your specific circumstances, but there is no denying that the SQE route is quickly becoming seen as the industry standard - a process that will be formalised when LPCs are phased out in 2032.

For the time being, LPCs remain a better option for those who want the most in-depth and traditional learning experience, with guided tutelage provided by university lecturers. SQEs, however, have the clear advantage of much greater flexibility, opening up a pathway to solicitor careers for many who would have been excluded in the past, including those people with families and personal commitments, or those with existing legal experience who want to train as a solicitor without leaving the workforce.

By weighing up your personal circumstances, career objectives and preferred approach to learning, you will be able to find a path to qualification that meets your needs, and sets you up for a long and successful solicitor career.

Find out more

To find out more about becoming a solicitor, or for information on how we can help you to find an ideal legal job, visit Sellick Partnership’s legal recruitment hub.

You can take a look at our latest insights into legal recruitment trends, or browse our current public sector, in-house and private practice legal roles. If you would like to know more about how Sellick Partnership can support you in developing your career as a solicitor, get in touch with us today.