Q&A with Brianna Paterson: Paralegal candidate working towards an SQE qualification

8 mins

We caught up with Brianna Paterson, a driven Paralegal who is currently working towards qualifying as a Solicitor through the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) route. We discussed how Brianna balances work, life and studying, the reasons for choosing the SQE route over the alternatives and the costs she expects to incur  throughout.

Tell me about your anticipated timeline for completing your SQE and becoming a qualified solicitor?

I’m currently undertaking a part-time, evening Masters (MA) course, which is a training system not exclusively for the SQE, but it provides preparation for the SQE1 and SQE2. I’m currently on track to finish the MA in 2024 and then do both exams prior to the end of 2024/early 2025.

SQE1 will be completed first so I aim to complete this by the Summer of 2024. SQE2 is more coursework based so it is dependent on when they are holding the assessments, but it is looking like that will be late 2024/early 2025.

What led you to want to qualify as a solicitor?

I originally did my degree in history and then worked in publishing for a couple of years but was unsure of what I wanted to do. I then started looking into law as the elements of publishing which I enjoyed were the copy-editing and writing, looking at the intent behind words and there were a lot of applicable skills to drive me to Law.

I chose the SQE because I love the idea of career progression. It’s a very clear, linear path and there are a lot of different areas of law to explore but there’s also a system where you start as a Paralegal, then progress to a Trainee, you then qualify and you’re Newly Qualified, then you can move your way up.

What were your reasons for choosing the SQE route, rather than the traditional Legal Practice Course (LPC)  route?

I didn’t do a law degree and hadn’t started a law degree by September 2021, so I didn’t have the option to do the LPC route [to start the LPC a student must have started, or been accepted onto, a law degree or Graduate Diploma in Law by September 2021]. If you have done a component of this before September 2021 then you can pick it up again until 2032.

The MA I am currently undertaking isn’t necessary, but I found it would be beneficial to aid my learning as I hadn’t studied law previously.

You are currently working through Sellick Partnership as a locum Paralegal in the public sector, will  this qualify for your two years of legal experience needed to complete your  SQE?

I am lucky that my position does qualify. I have had the conversation with my manager and, given the work I do and the level of supervision I receive, he is happy to sign this off. There is a debate because the SQE is so new, some people are not 100% sure what experience will qualify. In which case, I would suggest speaking with your manager and looking at the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) website to see what they suggest.

Not all Paralegals are given the same level of responsibility, and I think this might be a problem in the next five to 10 years. Those not given as much responsibility may be at a disadvantage when they do qualify. In my role there is opportunity for drafting, research and client facing work, so really building those professional skills but it does vary job to job.

How would you describe your  study schedule?

I am studying through the University of Law and have four hours of class per week (6 – 8pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays) but I know they also do weekend courses. My study day, which is dedicated to SQE preparation, is Sundays.

It is a huge time commitment; I have basically given up every Sunday for the next two years, but it is worth it as it’s not the kind of exam that you can cram for. 

How are you finding it coming from a non-legal background?

I have an advantage due to my humanities course, because I do know how to write an essay and the MA course that I’m undertaking is very essay based. The actual SQEs are multiple choice and more of a challenge.

I am glad I’m doing the course rather than trying to self-teach. I have friends who are self-teaching which also works well for them but personally, I need that schedule to keep me accountable.

There are some concepts that are a bit of a struggle, but it is all very interesting and really exciting when I encounter something in my Paralegal role then encounter it during my studying. For example, I am currently studying contracts and deal with licensing and lease contracts on a daily basis, so it’s really useful learning concepts and seeing them in practice.

What are the total costs you have incurred/anticipate incurring to complete the SQE qualifications?

The MA is costing me about £15,000 for the 2 years of study, however that does not include the cost of the SQE exams themselves. The MA is not a necessary step, but this was the best route for me as it has the SQE prep built into it. The SQE exams are just over £4,000 in total [£1,622 for SQE1 and £2,493 for SQE2].

I am self-funding, but I know people can apply for student loans. I applied for a couple of different scholarships and managed to get one. Some people are also obtaining a Training Contract and treating that as their 2 years qualifying experience, similar to the traditional LPC route and a lot of the big firms will then fund the Masters course to prepare for the SQE exams.

Do you anticipate working with a tutor prior  to completing the SQE exams?

My plan is to self-study as my MA has an extra term at the end for SQE preparation. However, you can find intensive SQE1 and SQE2 preparation courses just before so I may complete one of those. It is all very dependent on where I am at that time. I don’t anticipate needing a specific tutor, they can be an additional cost of around £3,000.

What advice would you give to somebody considering qualifying as a Solicitor through the SQE route?

Gaining experience as a Paralegal is one of the best steps. It’s almost like a ‘try before you buy’ as it is quite a cost so it gives you a good look at how a specific area of law operates and gives you an idea of what you may or may not be interested in.

If you want to qualify as a Solicitor, having that Paralegal experience is going to be the big selling point. It’s also a great way for someone who cannot afford to do a degree and be unemployed during that time. It has given me a huge level of commercial awareness that I would not have otherwise had. If you’re looking to qualify through your SQE then it is a really good way to start out. 

There are two routes to qualify as a Solicitor and different reasons why one would be more beneficial than the other, depending on your circumstances. If you are considering which route is the best option for you, take a look at our article explaining both routes and outlining the pros and cons of both. If you are considering working as a Paralegal alongside your studies and would like to discuss your options, please get in touch with Brogan Connolly in our Legal team for a confidential discussion.