SQE-you-later: Will the recent exam blunder scare off future lawyers?

Law student Dara Antova gives her verdict on the Kaplan marking debacle


It’s officially been over a month since the most recent episode of “Law and Disorder” aired. Candidates are still reeling from it and the consequences are clearly visible.

One hundred and seventy-five out of 6,626 candidates were incorrectly told they had failed the first series of Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQE1). What’s even more disturbing is how this error came to light. It wasn’t through Kaplan’s internal efficiency controls or through detailed analysis before the results were announced. Instead, the error was only discovered because the affected students appealed their results. This revelation has sparked a debate about the quality of the current examination system and whether there are sufficient safeguards to prevent such mistakes and protect future lawyers.

While it is appreciated by many that the Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Paul Philip, has expressed his disappointment and acknowledged the seriousness of this error, this does not change the fact that this has resulted in some students being offered a training contract (TC). is withdrawn.

After working diligently in an already highly competitive industry, where the demand for working as a lawyer often exceeds the available positions, this setback is particularly disheartening. Not to mention the added blow in light of the £250 goodwill payment, which appears inadequate and does little to cushion the significant impact on candidates; no amount of money can adequately address the situation, especially considering that this only covers a fraction of an eighth of the total costs required to complete SQE1.

The City of London Law Society’s training committee shed light on a sobering reality, saying: “Some have chosen to give up their future legal careers.” This statement has deep resonance as many aspiring attorneys witness firsthand the actions of firms that have quickly withdrawn TC offers. The allure of the TC’s glossy packaging, perks and pay package no longer masks the hard truth: companies have made their priorities known, and the well-being of their employees has fallen flat. I understand; it’s a stark truth that no aspiring lawyer wants to face, and it’s sure to make many reconsider this lauded career path.

With fees set to rise in September, despite the blunder, can we really have much confidence in the SQE managers? However unpleasant the situation may be, in the interest of balance we should remember that this exam is relatively new and it is normal to encounter challenges initially. However, given the expectations placed on prospective lawyers to be trustworthy, it is only fair to expect the same level of commitment from those administering the exams.

Imagine the frustration of pouring your heart and soul into an exam, only to be told you failed, only to find out later that it was a mistake. By then it may be too late to apply for SQE2 and you will not be able to qualify for that year. As a result, you may struggle with the overwhelming feeling of loss and disappointment. Does that sound dramatic to you?

How can this ever be fixed? Candidates must now go through this ordeal, and I fear the true extent of the consequences may never be fully known. Many have been deterred from pursuing their dreams, and the impact of this debacle is far-reaching.

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As a future attorney, I was heartbroken by the news because I imagined myself in those candidates’ shoes. Witnessing the fallout and reading about the fallout on the internet, with future lawyers expressing their lack of mental strength, willpower and energy to continue, left me questioning my own career path – as did many others. And for those who have been completely put off from pursuing a career as a lawyer, I don’t blame you!

Zoe Robinson, Kaplan’s qualifications director, said at the time: “We are committed to putting this right for candidates, and sincerely regret and apologize for the impact this has had on those affected.” In addition to the goodwill payment, Robinson acknowledged that students who received incorrect results may have suffered direct losses and encouraged those affected to come forward.

Ultimately, some incredible aspiring lawyers may have been lost to the profession because of this blunder. The best we can hope for now is to ensure something like this never happens again. I appreciate that Kaplan is working on it, but it doesn’t make the current situation any easier.

From my perspective, the SQE seemed like a promising concept in theory. However, its implementation has fallen significantly short of its intended target. Despite the push for inclusivity and accessibility, it has had the opposite effect. This discrepancy between theory and reality raises significant concerns about the effectiveness and fairness of the SQE examination system. The disparity between the SQE’s lofty goals and the harsh realities its candidates face points to a fundamental flaw in the system. It is imperative that those in positions of authority recognize the gravity of the situation and take meaningful steps to address the damage caused. The trust of aspiring lawyers and the integrity of the legal profession are at stake, and swift action is needed to restore both.

Dara Antova is a final year law student at Goldsmiths, University of London and is aiming to qualify as a lawyer in the corporate/commercial sector. Outside of the law, she has a passion for strength training and travel.