Qualifying work experience (QWE)
On 1 September 2021, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) introduced a new route to qualifying as a solicitor: the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).
Under the SQE, candidates will need to complete at least two years full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience (QWE).
We've put together some guidance on QWE and its requirements.
All candidates will need to complete at least two years' full-time (or equivalent) QWE that’s grounded in legal work and the provision of legal services, developing some or all of the competencies set out in the statement of solicitor competence.
The SRA’s requirements allow a flexible approach to be taken to achieve this.
A solicitor or compliance officer for legal practice (COLP) will need to confirm the length and details of the experience.
They must confirm that an opportunity to develop these competencies was provided, and that no issues arose during the work experience regarding the candidate's character and suitability to be admitted as a solicitor.
QWE does not need to be completed in one block, it can be accrued at a maximum of four separate organisations, including:
- legal clinics in academic institutions
- law centres
- other appropriate organisations
There is no minimum length of time for a placement, although candidates and firms will need to consider if the placement is of a long enough duration to have experienced any of the competencies required.
Candidates are also not limited to a single placement at each of the four organisations.
They may complete several placements of differing time periods at each organisation and add them together to reach the two years' QWE requirement.
Many firms and organisations – including in-house teams, law clinics and unregulated providers of legal services – will now be able to offer work that qualifies as QWE.
The work undertaken will qualify as QWE so long as it's grounded in legal work and providing legal services, giving a candidate the opportunity to develop some or all of the competencies set out in the statement of solicitor competence.
The aim of QWE is to provide a broad range of experience across the competencies. As such, work undertaken should provide opportunities for candidates to experience the wider work of a solicitor and develop competencies in different areas.
The key consideration is if the solicitor or COLP confirming the QWE is content that the candidate has been given the opportunity to develop some or all of the competencies set out in the statement of solicitor competence.
Where a candidate is undertaking a role with a view to gaining QWE, the nature of the work and how it will enable the candidate to develop the competences should be agreed at the start of the period of QWE.
Where agreement cannot be reached as to whether work being undertaken, or previously undertaken, meets the requirements for QWE, the matter should be directed to the SRA.
The SRA has made it clear that it will only become involved if it's satisfied that all other avenues have been explored, such as seeking confirmation from a different solicitor within the business or seeking a third-party confirmation, if possible.
The purpose of QWE is to give candidates the opportunity to:
- develop some or all the competencies outlined in the statement of solicitor competence
- experience the work of a solicitor
- develop knowledge and skills in the areas of ethics and professional conduct which are a key part of being a member of the solicitors’ profession
- gain some socialisation into the workplace
- show future employers that they have gained a well-rounded and in-depth training experience, which has prepared them well for practice, and
- prepare for the SQE2 assessments (for those who undertake QWE before taking the assessments)
There are preparation courses for the SQE2 assessments covering all the skills that will be examined.
However, there is no substitute for real experience for the development of skills. If candidates can develop these skills during QWE, they may be in a position to take shorter, less expensive SQE2 preparation courses.
Ethics and professional conduct are also a key part of being a member of the solicitors’ profession, and these areas of knowledge and skill can be developed through QWE.
Candidates should consider carefully what they want to get out of their QWE and how they can best show a real commitment to the profession.
For example, if candidates wish to work in areas of legal practice that their academic studies may not have prepared them for (such as legal aid), then it will be important for them to gain exposure to this type of work during QWE.
There are 18 competencies, across four key areas, which are set out in the statement of solicitor competence.
Best practice would be to get a broad range of experience across the four key areas wherever possible.
Candidates are not expected to develop all the competencies, but the more they're able to develop, the better prepared they'll be for the SQE 2 assessments and their future practice as a solicitor.
Consideration should also be given to the length of time needed to focus on each competency to fully develop an understanding of it.
Appropriate supervision and mentoring are a key part of this process, and the solicitor confirming QWE should be able to ensure that the candidate is directed to an appropriate range of tasks and experiences.
A candidate undertaking QWE prior to their SQE2 assessment is also likely to be better prepared for that assessment if they have had the opportunity to develop a broad range of competencies.
It’s up to the individual firm or organisation to determine how best to structure their QWE offering.
Some may only offer a short period, whereas others may offer the full two years required.
What is important is for employers to:
- keep accurate records of what a candidate has done
- keep accurate records of which competencies have been developed, and
- ensure that this is properly confirmed at the end of each placement
Employers and those managing volunteers should consider the best way for their candidates to record their QWE.
Candidates completing their QWE at more than one placement should consider how best to keep a record that can be accessed by more than one organisation.
The SRA has developed a template that can be used for record keeping. It is not compulsory to use this template and you are free to record the information in the way that best suits the candidate and employer.
Whichever way you keep a record, it must accurately record the competencies developed, and how they have been developed so that a solicitor or COLP can confirm the QWE to the SRA.
The record should be used as the basis of regular discussions between the candidate and the solicitor confirming the QWE. It should be used to ensure that both parties are clear on which competencies have been developed and that the evidence is adequate.
The record will not be required by the SRA, it is for internal use only.
However, it is good practice to keep clear and up-to-date records in case there are any issues with confirming a candidate’s QWE.
It should be considered good practice for employers to keep records of those employed – even on a temporary basis – and the role they have been employed in, in case a candidate approaches former employers to confirm QWE retrospectively.
All reasonable and proportionate efforts should be made to accommodate such requests.
The increased flexibility that QWE offers, compared with the training contract, means that many paralegals, or those employed in similar roles, will now find themselves able to use the work they are undertaking to count towards QWE.
This means that if they can pass the required SQE1 and 2 assessments, they will have a clear pathway to qualification as a solicitor.
Many firms and organisations will need to consider how to manage requests from paralegals or other staff (past and present) who may wish to have their work confirmed as QWE. This includes organisations who do not currently offer training.
QWE must be confirmed to the SRA by a solicitor or COLP.
Candidates should get their QWE confirmed by each employer before leaving that place of employment.
The employer is only confirming the QWE undertaken with them. The employer of the last QWE period is not expected to confirm on behalf of other employers.
The solicitor or COLP does not need to hold a practising certificate or work for the same organisation as the candidate undertaking QWE, but must:
- have reviewed the work of the candidate during the period of QWE
- have received feedback from the person or persons supervising the work (if not themselves), and
- be happy to confirm:
- the length of the work experience carried out
- that it provided the opportunity to develop some of the required competencies set out in the statement of solicitor competence, and
- that no character and suitability issues arose
Since QWE can be done at up to four separate organisations, with no minimum length of time for a placement, this is considerably more flexible than the current period of recognised training (the ‘training contract’).
Some firms and organisations who did not feel able to offer the necessary breadth of experience for a period of recognised training, are embracing this change by offering shorter periods of QWE.
This enables candidates to follow a portfolio approach where they can build up a total of two years' QWE through different placements, giving them experience across a wider number of areas.
There is also the opportunity for more part-time QWE.
For example, legal clinics offering part-time placements to students can determine how much this equates to as a full-time equivalent, and can then confirm this as part of a candidate’s QWE.
This approach from firms and organisations would have a benefit in terms of equality and diversity. It allows candidates to gain valuable and necessary experience whilst balancing other things in their lives, such as caring commitments.
Following on from the COVID-19 pandemic, many firms are looking at hybrid working models for their junior members of staff, combining remote working with time in the office.
In this way, firms and organisations may be able to open up places to individuals who have previously been unable to consider a full-time, in-person training place.
QWE can take place anywhere in the world, so long as it meets the SRA’s requirements and is confirmed by a solicitor of England and Wales.
Since QWE does not need to be completed in one block, it may be that some or all of a candidate’s QWE could take place in a foreign jurisdiction.
Fully qualified foreign lawyers are exempt from the QWE requirement.
As a matter of good practice, we recommend that providers of training contracts and QWE should pay their employees a fair salary updated in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) 12-month rolling inflation rate.
- recommended amounts
- who this applies to
- what to consider if you're an organisation offering training contracts or QWE