I’d like to start off by introducing myself so you can understand my background and the relevance I have to the blog you are about to read. My name is Edward Armitage and at Cooper Fitch I am a Legal Recruitment Consultant specialising in Private Practice. I have been connected to the legal industry in both the UK and Middle East since 2013, I studied Law at Middlesex University and studied the Legal Practice Course at BPP University in London. Throughout the course of this blog I am going to be discussing the newly introduced Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) and the impact it may have on the legal profession and legal recruitment. I will be highlighting some of the key aspects of the SQE and who will be able to benefit from its inception as well as some of the potential obstacles it may face.

 

Have you ever wanted to work in law but have felt it is too late in your career or you can’t because your degree is not relevant? Well thanks to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) who has come to shake up the industry, now all aspiring solicitors can qualify in England and Wales no matter what degree they hold. As of the 1st September 2021 the SQE has become the new standardised assessment to qualify as a solicitor meaning for those who start a law or non law degree from this date, the SQE will be the centralised route to qualification. In November this year more than a thousand people will take the first ever SQE assessment.  Prior to the SQE inception, the traditional way to qualify as a solicitor was to undergo the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which was introduced in 1993 and has been a compulsory requirement for hopeful solicitors before they undergo a two year training contract. The LPC was introduced to stimulate competition by encouraging more educational institutions to offer the LPC and allow for more students to take part. However, only around one in five British universities actually offer the LPC, with BPP University and University of Law dominating 80% of the market providers. 

How will the SQE impact legal recruitment?

From a legal recruitment perspective which is what I assume you have been waiting for me to delve into, the SQE will present a challenge to law firms when looking at potential candidates. On one side you have the well trodden path of a qualifying law degree followed by the Legal Practice Course and finally a training contract, it is a very clear and consistent path which the majority of firm’s employees have also followed. Firms may continue to favour candidates who have followed this route as opposed to those who have completed the SQE purely on the basis that they have also been tested under a system that is familiar to them. There is a danger that the SQE could lead to a “two tier” system among candidates, depending on whether they opted for the new SQE path or the tried and tested LPC route. A way of tackling this is to be upfront with candidates and firms to be clear on their preference of provider and qualification route which will also create an opportunity for recruiters to become the first line of defence for firms and candidates alike to ensure the candidates with the desired training and qualification are matched to the right opportunities. This however may limit some candidates’ preferred choice in terms of which firm they want to work at. It will take some time before we see changes from a legal recruitment perspective as the SQE has only been in place for 2 months however when it comes to matching a suitable candidate for a role at a firm, there are typical skills and academic qualifications we look for, alongside candidate experience and with the possibility of law firms looking for one specific qualification, there could be a number of newly qualified professionals looking for work. 

 

As firms in the Middle East bounce back from hiring freezes and overall, a difficult 2 years from the effects of COVID-19, we are seeing a surge in recruitment and in particular corporate and commercial lawyers being the most highly sought after. Major events such as Dubai Expo, the Qatar market opening and Vision 2030 in Saudi Arabia are getting the cogs of recruitment turning and will be a key driver in the market. The SQE will add fresh candidates to that market with different backgrounds which they will be able to bring to the industry however it will be important that SQE candidates have some relevant and sufficient “qualifying” experience to be able to see a career in law. Overall, law firms seem, as they often do, to be waiting for more concrete evidence before committing to the SQE. Whilst the SQE offers greater flexibility and opportunity to careers in the law, it remains to be seen if the conversion to a qualified solicitor will be any more diverse than the LPC. Innovation and disruption brings opportunities and the SRA need to work closely with the legal profession and academic community to ensure the right outcome for the future of legal education and training.   

 

I hope you found my blog insightful and if you would like to share your thoughts on this topic or require my expertise please get in touch earmitage@cooperfitch.ae

Meet the expert

Edward Armitage

Recruitment Consultant

Representing the firm since 2021

Services

Recruitment, executive search

Functions

Partners & teams, Senior Associates, Associates & Newly qualified

Industries

Legal, Private Practice

About me

Edward joined Cooper Fitch in 2021 after being connected to the Legal Industry in both the UK and Middle East since 2013. Prior to his successful career Edward Studied Law at Middlesex University where he gained a first class honours degree before enrolling in a Legal Practice Course at BPP University of Law in London. 

Edward has valuable experience working in the legal industry in both In House and Private Practice positions. He has worked with ‘Magic Circle’ and Boutique firms alike and knows the requirements for each in order to be successful, understanding the needs of the firm and candidates respectively. 

Edwards hands-on experience of working in law firms, from legal support roles to partner roles has provided him with a personal approach to identifying roles and candidates collectively as well as a very good understanding of the culture and trends that influence the UAE business world. Ed has been exposed to the volatile nature of the legal industry in both the UAE and the UK and can provide valuable information to help best navigate the Law and how to succeed.

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