Qualifying work experience for paralegals
This guidance explains how paralegals and those in similar legal roles can gain qualifying work experience (QWE) without a training programme. It also sets out the role of their employers.
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) was introduced on 1 September 2021 and will gradually replace all other routes into the profession.
The SQE makes it possible for individuals working as paralegals, or in other legal roles, to use this work as qualifying work experience (QWE).
Work carried out prior to 1 September 2021 can potentially be claimed as QWE, and candidates can already register any relevant completed experience with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
To qualify as a solicitor, candidates would still need to complete the SQE1 and 2 assessments, as well as have a degree-level qualification (or equivalent).
However, this route provides a way around the ‘bottleneck’ of having to complete a training contract, which has prevented some individuals from being able to qualify under the current routes.
To use their work experience as QWE, these candidates will need to have it confirmed in the same way as any other candidate.
A solicitor or compliance officers for legal practice (COLP) can provide the confirmation.
It's useful for firms to keep accurate records of who they have employed and in what role, even if they only employ them for a short time.
Candidates are responsible for keeping their own records outlining:
- the length and timing of their work
- the tasks they undertake, including their specific role in relation to those tasks
- how the tasks provided the opportunity to develop the competencies as set out in the statement of solicitor competence
If you employ someone as a paralegal or in a similar role, you may be asked to confirm their work as QWE regardless of whether or not you run a formal training programme for aspiring solicitors.
This could apply to roles in-house as well as at law firms.
The requirements for QWE are much broader and less defined than the requirements for the current period of recognised training.
QWE can be accrued in up to four organisations, and there is no minimum amount of time that candidates can claim – so you may be asked to confirm QWE even for short placements.
The solicitor or COLP confirming the QWE will need to satisfy themselves that it meets the SRA’s requirements.
They cannot unreasonably refuse to confirm the QWE if it meets the requirements, even if the individual is not on a dedicated training programme.
The confirmation is of the completed QWE, not the competence of the candidates, as this is assessed through the SQE1 and 2 assessments.
When employing new individuals in these types of roles, it would be good practice to discuss the employees’ expectations around QWE at the start of their employment. It would also be useful to discuss the employer’s programmes and processes.
To qualify as a solicitor, candidates must complete their SQE1 and 2 assessments, in addition to having a degree level qualification (or equivalent) and QWE.
Depending on how far the candidate has progressed through the current pathway to qualification as a solicitor, they may only need to complete the SQE2 assessment.
The SRA's transitional arrangements outline the process for switching routes in more detail.
Some firms are proposing to support suitable candidates through their SQE assessments and any preparation courses.
This is not required but is a good way to encourage candidates working as paralegals or in other legal roles to progress. It may also have a positive effect on equality and diversity within the workforce.
The SRA has confirmed that firms and organisations can employ individuals in any role they choose.
This means that if you employ someone as a paralegal or in a similar role, who then qualifies as a solicitor via the SQE route, you do not have to employ them as a solicitor and can continue to employ them as a paralegal.
However, if they're providing legal services, the individual will be required to hold a practising certificate and comply with regulatory requirements as any other solicitor.
The title of their role is a matter for the firm and not one in which the SRA will interfere, provided it is not misleading to clients.
If an individual has met the required standard to qualify as a solicitor, you may wish to reconsider how best to use their skills and experience.
Throughout the process of the paralegal seeking qualification, it's essential to:
- maintain clear communication
- manage expectations about future roles and opportunities
- communicate the level of support the employer is able to provide
It's also important to consider and communicate who will pay for the required practicing certificate should the candidate successfully qualify but not be employed in a solicitor role.