By: 4 March 2024
Online vs in person – which mode of SQE preparation is right for you?  

Matthew Tomlinson, dean, and Dr Clare Young, campus manager, at The University of Law discuss the different pathways to qualification since the introduction of the SQE and the benefits of face-to-face instruction.  

 

Alternatives to university learning 

A fundamental aim of the SRA when setting up the SQE was to move away from a very prescriptive pathway to qualification. The LPC and training contract route are well established, but the sector needed to create multiple routes which enabled the order of assessment and work experience to become more blended.

As a result, new programmes have emerged to respond to these changes. They offer students a greater selection of online, asynchronous self-study to cater for those wanting to undertake qualifying work experience and prepare for the SQE assessments at the same time. A popular example of this is the Graduate Solicitor Apprenticeship that has enabled university graduates to go straight into on-the-job training. Many apprentices have undertaken online asynchronous study programmes to prepare for the SQE assessments.  

Whilst online and self-study programmes have long been established modes of study for solicitor qualification programmes, these have historically appealed to the minority of aspiring solicitors looking for flexibility in their learning. Most students are attending taught face-to-face programmes. Initial observations following the introduction of the SQE, are that programme cost and new training pathways are directing more students to online asynchronous study. However, the question should be asked as to whether this is the right model for everyone.  

 

“Online programmes cannot replicate a socially interactive space, and for Generation Z online learning may not be in their best interest.”

 

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it 

Under the old LPC regime, most students benefited from a 9-month full time taught programme, studying in person amongst peers that were at the same stage of their career. The vocational nature of this study period focussed heavily on practicing and refining core skills in a supportive learning environment. This face-to-face environment also helped nurture the students’ communication skills and social interaction, and development of future professional networks.

Online programmes cannot replicate a socially interactive space, and for Generation Z online learning may not be in their best interest. Gen Z have been described as ‘digital natives’, and their ability to navigate and use technology may be highly prized. However, this technological literacy does not necessarily translate into interpersonal competence, and Gen Z have had less opportunity than previous generations to practice their social skills.  

Emotional and social skills are needed to thrive in the workplace, to build relationships with clients and peers, and to adapt to meet future challenges and changes. Gen Z has been noted to have the lowest level of interpersonal competence of all generations. So, while online teaching may provide flexibility and convenience, it does not necessarily contribute to the development of vital skills for the future profession. 

Independent study is also not conducive to enabling many learners to reach their potential. Most graduates will have experienced three or more years of in-person learning and will lack the skills and often the motivation to manage a challenging programme of self-study. The SQE is acknowledged to be a harder assessment than its predecessor LPC. The national pass rates for SQE 1 are sitting currently at 53%. Accordingly, choosing a mode of study that ensures an individual is best placed to pass the SQE at first attempt is of paramount importance. This is as much a consideration for the firm as it is for the individual.  

 

“It is arguably more important than ever to ensure your future trainees are provided with the opportunity to develop effective interpersonal skills.”

 

How are firms handling the changes? 

Firms that have adopted training models that involve study and work-based training running concurrently have had to recognise that recruits are joining the firm with a markedly inferior skill set. Additionally, these recruits are having to manage intensive study alongside getting to grips with a job that can create a lot of pressure.

While online learning may suit some individuals, there are drawbacks with adoption of this model for all future trainees. It is arguably more important than ever to ensure your future trainees are provided with the opportunity to develop effective interpersonal skills. This should be a central consideration when it comes to deciding on the format of their training and education.  

The University of Law’s in person LLM SQE programme is become increasingly popular as a successor programme to the LPC. The university has designed a programme that effectively prepares students to sit both SQE assessments. The programme also incorporates practice informed skill content and elective material that equips graduates of the programme with a toolkit to become effective contributors to the firms they join from day one.  

 

Image: Matthew Tomlinson, dean, and Dr Clare Young, campus manager, at The University of Law.
Emma Cockings
Emma is the content editor for Yorkshire Legal News. Emma is an experienced writer with a background in client-centric personal injury law for a major firm. She has attended and reported on numerous high-profile legal events in Yorkshire.