Six City firms appoint BPP to deliver ‘super-exam’ prep courses amid education shake-up

BPP has been chosen by a consortium of six leading firms to provide Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) preparation, as the City gears up for an incoming education overhaul.

The consortium is comprised of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, Norton Rose Fulbright and Slaughter and May.  BPP will now design an education and skills programme to train future trainees at the firms.

‘We were sceptical [of the SQE] but the time for those discussions is in the past,’ Hogan Lovells pensions partner Edward Brown told Legal Business. ‘Now we’re taking advantage of the deregulation.’

The existing education regime requires a student to hold a law degree (or non-law degree plus a graduate diploma in law) and a one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by a two-year training contract at a law firm. The SQE will uproot this model, with prospective solicitors instead needing only to hold a degree or equivalent, pass an exam divided into two parts and have two years of qualifying work experience from a wider group of employers.

The appointment by the consortium suggests the ongoing domination of legal education by BPP and University of Law (ULaw) will persist. In total three providers were considered by the firms before BPP was chosen, with some observers surprised University of Law was not appointed. However, in a potential challenge to the existing duopoly, Australia’s leading legal training outfit launched in the UK last week through The College of Legal Practice.

The six firms are also hoping candidates will sit the first and second parts of the controversial exam before entering the workplace, despite the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s suggestion SQE 2 should be sat after work experience.

‘It’s easy to complain law firms are being conservative and not moving with the times,’ HSF partner Tim West told Legal Business. ‘But this is a root-and-branch change to the training of lawyers and ensures they are prepared from day one.’

While the courses are still being designed by BPP, West and Brown suggested technology will receive greater emphasis in the new programmes. The firms will also be taking existing components of the LPC and further tailoring them to the requirements of City law.

BPP will deliver the new suite of programmes for prospective trainees from autumn 2021. Subject to changes made by the regulator, trainees will sit the SQE in or around November 2022. The first intake of trainees affected should be joining the consortium’s firms in spring 2023.

This article first appeared on Legal Business.