The SQE: An opportunity for transformation

My previous article spoke about what the Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) is, why it’s coming and what it means for aspiring solicitors. Whilst there is still confusion around the change and the impact this will have, it does provide the opportunity for transformation through thinking differently.

This is particularly possible across the in-house sector as General Counsel think about how they might attract, retain, and develop talent to support their business.

The flexibility of the SQE gives the opportunity to learn whilst you earn and develop key competencies alongside preparing for the new style exams. We’ve started to see examples of how this could work in practice as employees can work with their employers to split their time – recently highlighted by Metro Bank. Read more on that here.

Myself and my colleagues have had several conversations with in-house legal teams to understand what’s important to them as they think about their ideal team structure and make-up. This has included key factors to consider when bringing talent into their organisations: willingness to learn, attitude, drive, proactivity, enthusiasm, adaptability, and initiative are often heard.

So, how can the SQE better enable legal teams?

#1 Workforce and team design

Critical in-house experience, including commercial skills and business partnership are often gained by working alongside the rest of the business in a corporate situation.

Valuable skills and opportunities can be leveraged as teams and individuals develop – from junior to senior talent. When organisations bring in more junior talent, develop them, invest in them, and support them on their journey to qualification they can shape and structure the ideal team. Benefits include:

 

  • Preparing for the new SQE brings flexibility and the opportunity to develop and design a training programme that fits alongside other work commitments ensuring the individual could earn while they learn and gain real, valuable work experience
  • Potentially not having to hire from private practice if that talent is developed and nurtured in-house. The return on investment could be significant as well as the cost saving
  • Leveraging the Human Resources (HR) and Learning and Development (L&D) teams across the wider business to put legal at the heart of talent development needs, providing a clear pathway that provides an end point assessment via the SQE.

#2 Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)

Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) is replacing the traditional training contract. The requirement is that each aspiring solicitor completes two years of work experience that can be gained across 1-4 placements at the same or different organisations. QWE presents several advantages for legal teams:

 

  • In-house legal teams can now tailor what work forms part of QWE by using frameworks or creating their own structures. Contract review, research and drafting are examples of work that could be included
  • Legal teams may have excellent aspiring solicitors amongst them, they may have already gained their QWE over several years and now need to pass the SQE assessments to qualify
  • In-house teams can build relevant, value-adding QWE opportunities for their trainees, aspiring lawyers, and overseas talent as well as their businesses.

#3 Talent Development

The aftermath of the ‘Great Resignation’ or reshuffle has given the employee more opportunity to carve their career paths. Many are looking for businesses that will invest in them and their ambition.

The SQE supports this ‘attract, retain, develop’ model – particularly when looking at overseas lawyers who may wish to dual qualify, aspiring solicitors who may be waiting to qualify and junior talent who can see a career development pathway at their chosen organisation.

The SQE is also a brilliant way to encourage career changers or people from other departments into the legal team.

#4 Accessibility

The SQE has been introduced in part to improve accessibility and increase diversity. Many employers are focused on improving diversity across their organisations given the abundant data available that demonstrates this improves performance.

Introducing increased flexibility and the ability to earn while you learn and prepare for the exams provides employers with the tools needed to support their diversity goals. BARBRI are a technology first, online legal training provider with their students achieving incredible results over the inaugural SQE1 and SQE2 exams.

In conclusion

The SQE is a genuine game-changer, particularly for the 76% of aspiring lawyers who would have to self-fund their way through the qualification process.

Despite the initial controversy attracted by the proposed introduction of the SQE, this whole new pathway to qualification for solicitors is gaining traction. It’s also winning favour amongst many expert commentators who advocated a radical shake-up of the legal education system. The SQE will ensure future generations of lawyers all meet the same consistently high standards of core competencies expected by their clients.

It also presents multiple benefits for legal teams looking for alternative ways to build commercially focused talent in-house.

In my next blog I will look at a potential framework for General Counsel to take advantage of the benefits afforded by the SQE.

About the author:

Lucie Allen – Managing Director, BARBRI International – an established and energetic leader with over 20 years commercial experience working across a variety of industries and verticals. She spent 7 years at Thomson Reuters prior to joining BARBRI in a global role as vice president in the legal segment where she worked closely with global law firm leaders. Lucie has created organisational structures, built teams, defined propositions and developed successful customer account programmes throughout her career to deliver top line growth.

Recognised for her collaborative approach, influence and ability to execute on her strategic vision, Lucie is passionate about diversity and inclusion advancement in the workplace as well as supporting people with their personal development and career goals to achieve their potential. She is a cohort lead for Thrive with Mentoring, a not-for-profit women’s mentoring programme, sits on the board for London Skills for Growth and London South East Colleges Group as well as ByFoke, a start-up business in the retail sector.

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About BARBRI Group

BARBRI offers a comprehensive suite of learning solutions for higher education institutions and law-related businesses. These include global qualification preparation, such as preparation for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), U.S. bar exam, the Professional Skills Course (PSC), as well as curriculum, assessment, online programme management, and professional development.

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