SQE myth buster: six misconceptions about qualifying work experience

As employers and candidates navigate the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) and qualifying work experience (QWE), Nicole Poole provides guidance on common QWE misconceptions.

Solicitors are getting to grips with the SQE and the new ways of providing work-based learning through QWE.

However, we’ve become aware of some of the misconceptions around QWE that solicitors have been grappling with.

We’ll tackle some of these, as well as the actual requirements.

If you’re considering offering QWE, you may wish to look at our QWE guidance or that of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, as well as the statement of solicitor competence which sets out the competencies candidates should have the opportunity to develop through QWE.

Common QWE misconceptions

1. “Firms and organisations wanting to offer QWE must register with the SRA”

QWE is far more flexible than the previous training contract or period of recognised training, both for those undertaking it and for those offering it.

Some firms may find that their employees, in paralegal or other roles, approach them to have the work they’re undertaking confirmed as QWE, whether they offer formal training programmes or not.

Find out more about QWE for paralegals

2. “A solicitor confirming QWE is responsible for confirming a candidate’s competency”

Find out more about the SQE assessments

A solicitor’s confirmation is also not a judgement of the standard of work produced, or the quality of the experience.

The solicitor would only need to confirm:

  • the length of the work placement undertaken
  • that the work experience was providing legal services
  • that the candidate had the opportunity to develop some of the required competencies and
  • that no issues arose during the placement with regards to the character and suitability of the candidate

3. “QWE can only be undertaken in England and Wales”

The restrictions are that:

  • a solicitor of England and Wales must confirm the QWE and
  • the QWE must be in the provision of legal services

4. “QWE can only be done in a law firm”

Legal services are provided to consumers through many different business models, and the flexibility of the QWE reflects this.

QWE can be undertaken in any business as long as:

  • the requirements set by the SRA are met and
  • the QWE is undertaken in the provision of legal services

This flexibility means many businesses who may not have been able to before, are now looking at offering QWE: for example, in-house legal departments and unregulated businesses.

5. “Candidates must have a mix of transaction and litigation experience”

QWE is not about the types of law experienced, but about giving candidates the opportunity to develop the necessary competencies set out in the statement of solicitor competence.

Candidates need to consider what the best QWE experience would look like for them, and firms and organisations should consider how best to train their future solicitors.

A wide range of experience gives great opportunities for developing the necessary skills and knowledge to become a successful solicitor. It gives candidates the opportunity to determine which areas of law they wish to practise in.

6. “QWE cannot be retrospective (before September 2021 when SQE started)”

The SRA has stated that it expects employers to take all reasonable and appropriate steps to confirm QWE when requested to do so.

There may be issues where there are no longer records of the period in question or appropriate staff still employed from this time period.

Staff working in roles such as paralegals or other support staff providing legal services can seek to have the work they have been undertaking confirmed as QWE.

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