SQewing social welfare law: The SQE and the future of social welfare law

Conference presentation

Rehal-Wilde, E. (2022). SQewing social welfare law: The SQE and the future of social welfare law. European Network for Clinical Legal Education. Brescia, Italy 13 - 15 Jul 2022
AuthorsRehal-Wilde, E.
TypeConference presentation

What’s the point of diversifying the legal sector, if it means fewer people can get jobs and fewer clients can get legal advice?

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) introduced the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in 2021 to create a new route to qualifying as a solicitor in England & Wales . The SQE was a way to standardise the qualification routes for solicitors, and deal with several barriers to entry, including cost and the difficulty of getting training contracts.

I argue that, whilst a more diverse legal sector is of course an important objective, the SQE will damage the social welfare sector, the potential solicitors who want to work in it, and the clients who need it. Whilst we may see a healthier mix of people qualifying, we will see the breadth of work being undertaken, and the number of people helped, shrink.

The SQE means that time spent undertaking pro bono work in student advice clinics, law centres or advice agencies can count towards candidates’ 2-year period of qualifying work experience. This has the potential to bolster the pro bono and CLE sectors, and possibly help further develop the pipeline from law school into social welfare law.

However, there are several potential drawback. Firstly, these students will require supervision from a sector that is already stretched to capacity. Solicitors with full caseloads of chargeable work will not be able to supervise effectively the candidates undertaking the qualifying work experience. As a result, the demand will not be able to meet the supply and an enormous opportunity to bolster the social welfare advice sector, in so doing strengthening the pipeline, may be lost.
SQE1 is a multiple choice exam. This could have a stifling effect on the ability of academics to do anything other than “teach to the test”. The message that the SQE sends to students is that social welfare law is not valuable nor valued. That it is not a viable career option, and that students should be steered away from it to careers in commercial practices.

So what is the role of the law school? Is it to prepare students for life in commercial practice? Is it to ensure the legal sector meets the needs of the society at large? Or is it to provide a space for students to learn, experiment, question, reflect and challenge?

KeywordsSQE, Solicitors Qualifying Exam, Social Welfare Law, Legal Aid, Social Justice, Pro Bono, Clinical Legal Education
Accepted author manuscript
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Publication dates
Print13 Jul 2022
Publication process dates
Deposited30 Aug 2022
Web address (URL) of conference proceedingshttps://www.encle.org/
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License: CC BY 4.0
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